RIM Reaches for the Social Music Cloud With New BBM Service

Research In Motion on Thursday announced its new BBM Music service, a cloud music offering for BlackBerry Messenger. BBM Music enables social and viral music discovery by allowing users to build a community-based library with friends’ selections. A closed beta of BBM Music has launched in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. The service is expected to be available later this year in multiple countries for a monthly charge of US$4.99.

In using the new BBM Music service, the size of a user’s music library will continue to grow as more friends and their playlists are added. Each user can select a music profile from a millions-strong catalog provided by leading labels, including the majors: Universal, Sony, Warner and EMI.

The BBM Music library starts out with a user’s music profile, which is a customized 50-song playlist that can be refreshed by swapping 25 songs each month. Each time users add a friend, their 50-song music profile is added to the users libraries. The more friends you add, the more music you can listen to.

Offline listening allows users to download tracks and access them without wireless coverage. Users are able to create playlists from their libraries and shuffle their entire community’s collection. Omniphone, a cloud music service provider, is providing RIM with a back-end solution for the BBM Music service. The package includes content management, music hosting and reporting functions.

RIM did not respond to an E-Commerce Times request for comments by press time.

Big Move to the Consumer Side

Adding more entertainment features could be a good move for the usually business-heavy BlackBerry platform. The market shift into smartphones has integrated work and play into single, handy devices.

“I think it is real encouraging news,” Allen Nogee, principal analyst for wireless technology at In-Stat, told the E-Commerce Times. “RIM has always tended to focus on business features. Even when the company’s products moved outside the enterprise and into consumer hands, the number of consumer features were very limited. RIM added BlackBerry Messenger, which was helpful, but it is still falling into that normal niche of communications. This is the biggest move RIM has made in the entertainment area, but even still, RIM lags the industry leader, Apple, by several years. Still, it’s a start, but now they need to do much more in the video area.”

The music service will be popular with current customers, Nogee predicted, and may slow the defections to other platforms. Even so, RIM will have to bet heavier on consumer features to get back on its feet in the minds of consumers.

Other smartphones have leap-frogged the BlackBerry platform, leaving it in a realm of semi-smartness.

“While this is a real good start, RIM has to do much more,u201d Nogee said. u201cThe world has changed so much from when RIM devices were the rage.”

Cloud music service is a handy way to grab multitudes of music without consuming storage space on the user’s device. The downside is the cost of data transfer for users without unlimited plans.

“Cloud music allows easy music sharing among friends, and it allows music companies to better control their music content,” said Nogee. “It also allows the music to be accessed from multiple devices, and it protects against loss if you lose your phone.”

On the other hand, Nogee noted that the negative aspect of cloud service is the need for an Internet connection.

“If local downloading is not allowed, you have to pay twice — once to buy the music, and then again every time you listen to it in the form of data charges,” he said.

Me Too — Too Late?

RIM’s offering may be viewed by users as a me-too entry into the market. Since there already exists a plethora of music offerings out there for mobile devices, RIM’s service could be seen as too little, too late — a lightweight offering compared to the competition.

“I think it’s an interesting idea, but I also think it would make more sense if RIM were to ask partners such as Pandora or other music services to integrate BBM functionality into their existing offerings rather than recreating the wheel,” Josh Martin, senior analyst, Strategy Analytics told the E-Commerce Times. “According to my estimates, in order to reach the 15 million songs offered by Spotify for $10 a month, users would need 300,000 BBM friends, and they would have to spend nearly $1.5 million per month. That is 14,984,985 percent more than the cost of a single Spotify subscription.”

The new service isn’t a good value, Martin said, even if it offers cool social features.

“While the idea makes sense, I fear that the pricing and the limitations will make the service less attractive than competitive offerings,” he explained. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see companies dedicated to music opting to integrate BBM into their BlackBerry Apps.”

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