Texting app banned by BlackBerry returns on own terms

Text messaging service Kik finds a way to bring its app to BlackBerry phones despite an ongoing legal battle with Research In Motion.

Kik screenshot
Kik developers built a workaround to get its app onto BlackBerry smartphones. (Click to enlarge.) Kik

Even the lawyers can't stop technology.

When a startup called Kik launched a mobile messaging app a year ago, the growth was explosive. More than 2 million people downloaded it in its first few weeks, turning Kik into a viral sensation on both the iPhone and BlackBerry smartphones.

Then the trouble began. First, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion pulled the Kik app from its app store. Then it filed suit against Kik Interactive in federal court in Canada, claiming misuse of trademarks and patent infringements. RIM makes the popular BlackBerry Messenger service, called BBM.

But while the legal process has continued on, so too have Kik's software engineers.

Today, Kik is launching a workaround to let BlackBerry customers-- once the service is restored --again use Kik, which is both super speedy and lets a user see if the person on the other end has read the message. Kik's team built a workaround app using Java Mobile Application, and it will be available through Kik.com.

"This thing has been a long time coming," says Kik founder and CEO Ted Livingston, who is 24 years old and used to work for RIM before he went out on his own. "And it doesn't require any of their tools, their API, and it doesn't need their consent."

RIM didn't respond to a request for comment.

A lot has happened in the 11 months since RIM went after Kik, which, like RIM, is based in Waterloo, Ontario. Last spring, Kik raised $8 million from Union Square Ventures. Apple unveiled a product called iMessage , which is similar to BBM but will only work on Apple devices (a limitation that Kik and competitors, such as WhatsApp Messenger and Pinger stress). And RIM's BlackBerry has continued to lose market share to the iPhone and Android-based phones.

While sales of overall smartphone sales grew 74 percent in the second quarter of this year, according to research firm Gartner, RIM's share fell to 12 percent from 19 percent a year earlier.

Which begs the following question for Livingston: why bother?

After all, while getting knocked from BlackBerry's app world brought Kik's impressive growth to a near halt, the start-up has since regained traction by expanding to Android and other phones. The company has plenty of cash to work with and Livingston says Kik now delivers about 300 million messages a month from more than 5 million registered users.

"We're very proud of the version we built for BlackBerry, but we didn't do it because it was a key strategic thing," says Livingston. "We just wanted to care for our BlackBerry customers."

And perhaps use a little code to stick it to the opposing legal team.

Correction at 9:52 a.m. PT: This story was initially published with an incorrect figure for Kik's messaging volume. It delivers about 300 million message per month.

About the author

Paul Sloan is editor in chief of CNET News. Before joining CNET, he had been a San Francisco-based correspondent for Fortune magazine, an editor at large for Business 2.0 magazine, and a senior producer for CNN. When his fingers aren't on a keyboard, they're usually on a guitar. Email him here.

 

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