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BlackBerry BBM takes voice calls to iPhone, Android as Viber ends up in Japanese hands

On Feb 14, two indicators that voice over data could be the next big thing

By: Tech Desk | Updated: February 15, 2014 7:44:04 pm
M_Id_382838_BBM BBM users can now make voice calls over Wi-fi or data

On Valentine’s Day, BlackBerry made life a lot simpler, and cheaper, for lovers. The altest version of its popular BlackBerry Messenger will now let even Android and iPhone users make ‘free’ voice calls to BBM contacts. It will be free if you are using it over Wi-Fi, but while it works over data connections too, overuse of this feature could lead to you exceeding your data limit sooner than you expected. So, the free comes with a catch.

BBM customers will also be able to share their live location for a specified amount of time with other BBM contacts by using location sharing, powered by Glympse, and will have 100 new emoticons available to help them say what’s on their mind. That would be handy if you still have a lot of friends on BBM, those who have not yet switched over to Whatsapp, Line or WeChat.

Actually, a lot of people are using multiple messaging services to keep in touch with different kinds of people. For instance, you can use BBM for office contacts, Line for family and WeChat for friends and so on. A lot of users do this segmentation to get a grip on their increasingly social lives.

The messaging segment saw another interesting news on the same day. Viber, the pioneer for voice over data services on smartphones, was picked up by Japan’s ecommerce company Rakuten.

John Delaney, Associate VP, Mobility at research first IDC, says: “It looks like Viber is being bought for its user base, to whom Rakuten intends to sell digital goods such as games, emoticons and tokens. Rakuten will probably use a similar model to the one developed by, among others, the Japanese instant messenger service Line.”

This, he says, fits in neatly with Rakuten’s larger strategic objective of increasing the size of the international target market for its digital goods. “On the basis that the simplest ideas tend to be the most successful, this bodes well for a better outcome for this acquisition, than in the e-Bay/Skype case.”

In 2005, e-Bay bought Skype, an  acquisition that didn’t end happily for e-Bay. The rationale for that deal was predicated on integrating Skype functionality into the e-Bay interface, to “reduce the friction for transactions”. But it never really came off, and eventually Skype was spun back out of e-Bay (to be acquired again later on, this time by Microsoft).

The two moves indicate that voice calls in messaging apps is a segment that is hotting up. As data services become more reliable in countries like India, you could see a larger number of people use these services to stay in touch with friends and family.

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