TORONTO (AP) -- Research in Motion launched a new service Thursday that allows BlackBerry users to share music with friends.
BBM Music allows BlackBerry users to select 50 songs from a catalog of millions of tracks for their own personal playlist, said Alistair Mitchell, RIM's vice president of BBM platform and integrated services. BBM users can share songs from that list with friends who use the instant messenger service.
"By threading the culture, the immediacy and the trusted contacts that (make up) BBM with music we thought we could create a really compelling, unique experience," said Mitchell.
"Through BBM Music I can find out in real time what music matters to my friends ... I'm seeing music bubble up that I wouldn't even had thought about, or it's reminding me about music from my college days."
Users will pay US$4.99 a month for the BBM Music service. A closed trial run of the service began in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. Thursday, leading up to a wide release in 18 countries overall later this year.
RIM is hoping the program will leverage the 45 million BBM users to help the Waterloo, Ontario-based company to compete with its rivals, Apple's iPhones and Google Android devices.
"More than 45 million customers already love the social communication benefits delivered through BBM and we are thrilled to be extending the experience into a uniquely social and interactive music service," said Mike Lazaridis, RIM president and co-CEO.
RIM said music can be saved to smartphones to listen to while offline and users can keep track of how many friends are listening to your tracks.
"A major component of online music continues to be about community, and the ability to discover new artists and music through word of mouth," Rob Wells, president of Global Digital Business for Universal Music Group said in a statement.
At a time when RIM is struggling to produce phones that can compete with the dominant players in the market, well-designed software products that make the BlackBerry cooler to use are exactly what the company needs, says Sidneyeve Matrix, a professor of media and mass communications at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario.
"They never have cool stuff, they don't need 20 new phones, they need excellent services and software -- desperately," says Matrix.
And it's smart for the company to be leveraging BBM -- its biggest strength with young people -- any way it can, she adds.
"My students are ... 18 to 22 and BBM is an extension of their self, it's always on, it's like the backbone of college culture. Everybody's got BBM," Matrix says.
Some tech blogs came out swinging after RIM made its announcement, making unfavorable comparisons with other music services like Rdio and Spotify, which charge $10 a month but have no song limits.
"RIM Launches Inexplicable BBM Music App," wrote TechCrunch, while Gizmodo headlined its story: "BlackBerry's BBM Music Is The Dumbest Music Service I've Ever Heard Of."
But Mitchell said RIM was trying to create a different service and the limited number of songs allowed per profile was strategic.