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BlackBerry in talks to preload BBM on rival handsets

BlackBerry COO Kristian Tear told CNET that the company is talking to a number of partners and handset manufacturers.

BlackBerry is working with other handset manufacturers to get its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service preloaded on to their phones, according to a top executive.

BlackBerry announced that BBM would go cross-platform at its annual conference last month. (Credit: Brian Bennett/CNET)

"There is interest from other handset makers," BlackBerry chief operating officer Kristian Tear told CNET in an interview on Wednesday.

BlackBerry is on the lookout for ways to expand the reach of BBM ever since it said the service would break beyond the confines of BlackBerry and move to other operating systems. The company said BBM would appear on iOS and Android devices mid-year.

Tear declined to comment on when exactly the cross-platform version of BBM would be available.

He disputed the notion that BBM is a ghost town, as many users — particularly in the home market of North America — abandoned BlackBerrys for iPhones and Android devices. BBM has an active user base of 61 million customers around the world, with 70 per cent using it daily.

The large base of active users — including countries where it is a mainstay means of communications — is why other handset manufacturers would be interested in having BBM pre-installed on the phone, Tear said. He declined to mention any specific companies.

BlackBerry is opening up BBM in an effort to get non-BlackBerry users to start thinking about its products again, as well as grow the user base at a time when other messaging services such as WhatsApp boast a user base that exceeds 200 million people.

The danger, of course, is that customers drop their BlackBerry phones, and keep their BBM accounts on rival devices. But Tear said that isn't a concern.

"We don't feel like that is a risk," he said. "Obviously, if we did, we might have acted differently."

BlackBerry executives are so confident in BlackBerry 10 that they believe its customers will stick to the platform, and that new users enticed by BBM may make the switch.

"BBM is a strong platform that provides a different way of communicating," he said.