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BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins has shocked the smartphone world, announcing instant messaging system BBM would be coming to iPhone and Android users, for free.

The announcement came at BlackBerry’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida with Heins adding 'one more thing' at the end his keynote address, Steve Jobs style.

Mr Heins made the surprise announcement that one of BlackBerry's biggest weapons, its coveted instant messaging system BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, will be given away free of charge to iPhone and Android users.

Chatty smartphone users will now no longer have to own a BlackBerry in order to use the popular and secure BBM service, with anyone using Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android  able to send and receive BBM messages from this Summer in the US.

It seems Windows Phone users have again been left out in the cold.

The announcement also revealed that by year's end Apple and Android users will be able to make voice and video calls on BBM too, giving “feature parity” with the BlackBerry version of BBM.

"It's time to bring BBM to a greater audience, no matter what mobile device they carry," said BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins.

The Australian Financial Review is reporting BlackBerry executives at the conference gave a few reasons behind the surprise move.

One such reason is BlackBerry Channels, a new advertising/communication system that will allow companies to interact with BBM users in a manner similar to a Facebook Fan Page. Obviously the more users that are messaging with BBM means more advertising dollars for BlackBerry, a company that was in dire financial straits only recently.

Another reason given was that BBM will be "better integrated" into the BlackBerry operating system than it will be into Android or iOS, so that if users enjoy the BBM experience on their competitor device, they'll be tempted to grab a BlackBerry for the proper experience.

BBM is still widely regarded as the best instant messenging service available, due to its encryption capabilities and ease of use.

Further information is being sought from BlackBerry on a local launch of BBM for iPhone and Android.

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David Swan

David Swan is a tech journalist from Melbourne and is iTWire's Associate Editor. Having started off as a games reviewer at the age of 14, he now has a degree in Journalism from RMIT (with Honours) and owns basically every gadget under the sun. He also writes for Junkee and Fasterlouder. You can email him at david.swan@itwire.com or follow him at twitter.com/mrdavidswan

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