Facebook has launched a BlackBerry Messenger-style (BBM) instant messaging service for smartphone users, in another bad break for BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion as it struggles to play down BBM’s role in the London riots.
The app, which will be US-only initially and is imaginatively dubbed Facebook Messenger, allows users to send instant messages to their Facebook friends for no charge. In keeping with BBM, it also supports group messages too.
Detailing the reasons for its launch, Lucy Zhang of Facebook stated: "More and more of us rely on our phones to send and receive messages. But it isn't always easy to know the best way to reach someone on their phone.
"We think messaging should be easier than that. You should be able to write a message, click 'Send' and know that you will reach the person right away."
The popularity of BBM with teenagers has been one of BlackBerry phones’ key selling points in recent years, helping to at least partly offset the huge challenge it now faces from competitors.
The emergence of a rival service with the kind of reach that Facebook commands could remove that USP and leave the phone-maker in a parlous position.
Facebook’s move comes as BBM came under intense scrutiny this week when it emerged that London rioters used it to plan outbreaks of civil disobedience.
The link with the last five days of disturbances is expected to damage the BlackBerry brand among its once-core customer base of business users.