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BBM beta available to all Windows Phone users

The beta of version 1 is now up on the Windows Phone store, while BlackBerry is already working on version 2.

BBM for Windows Phone BlackBerry

A beta of BlackBerry's free Messenger app is now up for grabs to any Windows Phone user who wants to give it a spin.

Announced Thursday on the Inside BlackBerry blog, the new BBM beta is publicly available for download in Microsoft's Windows Phone store. Up until now, BBM for Windows Phone was accessible only through invitation or special request, leaving many users out of the loop.

Hit by hard times in the mobile market, BlackBerry has been trying to expand and enhance other niches of its business. One goal has been to further the reach of BlackBerry Messenger. The free chatting and voice calling app extended to iOS and Android in late 2013, a move that added more than 40 million registered users to the total BBM population by the end of the year. Through the recent betas, BlackBerry has been striving to devise a version of BBM that would appeal to Windows Phone users.

Just what does BBM for Windows Phone offer? BlackBerry touted a range of features, most of which are already familiar to BBM users.

BBM Chats. The Chats page in BBM for Windows Phone displays all of your chats, including those with individuals, multiple users, and entire groups. Notifications will pop up to let you know when your messages are delivered and read. During a chat, you can also share different items, including a photo, a voice note, contact information, and your location.

BBM Groups. The Groups feature lets you add up to 50 people to a single chat.

Find Friends. You can find other people using BBM and invite them to your contact list without having to exit the app. You can also share your PIN to connect with other people so that you don't have to give out your email address or phone number.

BBM Feeds. The Feeds feature lets you check in on the status of your BBM contacts. You can also tap on the name of a contact from this feature in order to initiate a chat.

Pin to Start. You can pin your BBM groups and individual chats to the Start screen for easier access.

Compatible with both Windows Phone 8 and 8.1, the new BBM app has also been specifically designed to take advantage of the look and feel of Microsoft's Windows Phone mobile operating system. That's in stark contrast to the iOS and Android versions, which have been criticized for looking too much like native BBM apps.

Responding to a question from blog site N4BB at Tuesday's BlackBerry Security Summit, BlackBerry Global Enterprise Services President John Sims hinted at upcoming design changes for the iOS and Android versions of the app, saying that BBM on iPhone and Android

Though dubbed a beta, the new version is considered version 1. A comment on the app's Windows Phone page said that BlackBerry is already working on version 2 to add even more features.

"As the popularity of BBM continues to grow, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to expand its availability to the Windows Phone community," Sims said in a statement. "The BBM app for Windows Phone shows our commitment to supporting cross-platform capabilities, and we are excited to be working with Microsoft to deliver a new level of collaboration to the Windows Phone platform."