OTTAWA â" Research In Motion on Thursday announced a new music sharing system based on its BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging system.
The company hopes that the popularity of BlackBerry Messenger will enable BlackBerry Messenger Music to distinguish itself in a marketplace that is overwhelmingly dominated by Appleâs iTunes.
While BlackBerry Messenger Music customers will be able to store songs on their smartphones to enable listening without an Internet connection, they will not own the music, as is a the case with iTunes. The system will also not allow users to transfer that music from their phones to computers.
Research in Motion says that the new service will allow users to choose from a library of about 10 million songs. But because it is intended to be a social networking service as well as a source of music, BlackBerry Messenger Music places some unusual constraints on how its users will be able to make their selections.
Subscribers will initially be able to pick only 50 songs, which they can store on their phones, to create a profile of their musical tastes. They will be allowed to change up to 25 of those songs a month after that.
In order to expand their collection beyond 50 songs, users can only download â" or âcacheâ to use the companyâs preferred term â" music other BlackBerry Messenger Music subscribers have included in their 50 song profiles.
Those music exchanges are also limited to people who already communicate with one another through BlackBerry Messenger, a service that the company estimates is now used by 45 million people. The total number of downloads through song swaps is theoretically only limited by the memory space on a userâs phone.
âWe want it to be an experience which is focused on entrusted relationships,â said Alistair Mitchell, the vice president for the BlackBerry Messenger platform and integrated services at Research in Motion, which is based in Waterloo, Ontario.
The music service will be introduced later this year in 15 countries and will be priced at $5 a month in the United States.
Appleâs attempt at turning iTunes into a social medium, Ping, has not been a success. But Mr. Mitchell said that because BlackBerry Messenger is effectively a social medium, Research in Motion should find a better reception for its offering.
âThey have strapped on a social feature,â he said. âWeâve got this social experience and population of users.â
As has long been its habit, RIM also seems to have designed the new service with wireless carriers in mind. As its North American market share continues to decline, it is increasingly important for RIM to maintain good relations with carriers as they subsidize and promote handsets.
While Mr. Mitchell declined to discuss and contractual details, users of the service will be able to pay for it through their mobile phone bills. That suggests that, unlike Apple, RIM will share some of the proceeds of its music business with the carriers.
Songs for the service will be drawn from the catalogs of EMI Music, the Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and the Warner Music Group.