At last: BlackBerry's best feature is coming to iPhones and Androids

BlackBerry messenger is about to become a little less exclusive

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The words "exciting" and "BlackBerry" haven't been used together in a long time, but this occasion might fit the bill. In an exciting bit of news, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced Tuesday that BlackBerry Messenger — the phone's fast and secure messaging client — will be ported over to iOS and Android later this summer. And better still, it's going to be free.

"We will make BBM available as the premier multiplatform messaging solution all around the globe," said Heins. "This is such a great experience, it's just too good to keep it only to ourselves."

Heins has a long way to go to global dominance: PC Mag reports that because the app has so-far been a BlackBerry exclusive, BBM currently supports a small fraction of the users commanded by the competition — about 60 million BBMers total. "It's dwarfed by Android/iOS competitors like WhatsApp and Viber, which measure their user bases in the hundreds of millions," writes PC Mag's Sascha Segan. "But BBM users are highly engaged, sending and receiving more than 10 billion messages per day."

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But what makes BBM better than, say, iMessage, WhatsApp, or boring ol' SMS texts? It's fast. After swapping pins, messages are rattled off near instantly without a text limit.

And unlike Apple's iMessage, its communication network is notoriously secure and reliable. In 2011, The Guardian reported that BBM was the messaging service du jour for London rioters, who used it to organize rallies under the radar of the authorities:

While the government debated whether to shut down Twitter, or prosecute Facebook users, it was BBM that was actually playing a substantive role in the riots, according to those who took part.

One ex-gang member received her first piece of information on the riots while sat behind the wheel of her family car.

"BlackBerry. Nothing but BlackBerry," the 22-year-old mother explained. "No one was on their computer, everyone was on their phones. BlackBerry's how we knew what — everything was happening." [Guardian]

One Crackberry forum poster claims that part of BBM's appeal is the service feels "like an exclusive club." Only the "cool people" with BlackBerry can use it. "I use it to keep in touch with friends and family." Although that club is about to get decidedly less cool and exclusive, it does give us a clearer view of the path forward for BlackBerry — the company — which looks to be licensing its communications services out to larger, more ubiquitous mobile platforms.

Let's hope email is next.

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Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for Previously, he was a tech reporter at TIME. His work has also appeared in Men's Journal, Esquire, and The Atlantic, among other places. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.