RIM Debuts BlackBerry Music Amidst Fears The Service May Not Find An Audience

Investors and analysts agree, Research In Motion needs to do something to reinvigorate its market position and prevent legions of once-loyal BlackBerry users from transitioning en masse to Android and iOS devices. Whether the company's newly announced music service is going to do anything to stem the tide is, however, a matter of debate.

The service, which entered a closed beta phase today, will run $4.99 a month. Users will be able to select up to 50 songs, which makes the service seem a dud right out of the gate, but RIM thinks it has an angle. BlackBerry Messenger Music (abbreviated BBM Music)'s hook is that it shares your music library with all of your friends, provided they sign up for the service as well. Thus, a friend network of ten people has access to 500 songs—not 50.

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, President and Co-CEO at Research In Motion. “We have partnered with leading music companies to provide a ‘full track’ music sharing and discovery experience that will provide users with quality music on demand and allow them to connect with friends on a whole new level.”

RIM's BlackBerry Bold launched earlier this month; it's the first touchscreen-enabled BlackBerry product

“A major component of online music continues to be about community, and the ability to discover new artists and music through word of mouth,” stated Rob Wells, President of Global Digital Business for Universal Music Group. “BBM Music dynamically and elegantly integrates the excitement of this social music discovery process with a high quality music service, enabling tens of millions of BlackBerry users to experience new music and to share those experiences with their friends virtually anywhere and at anytime.”

It's an interesting concept that's undermined by one major flaw—track swapping. Users are only allowed to swap 25 tracks per month. While the service presumably offers some sort of 'preview' option to allow for some sampling, only being able to switch 25 tracks means that any track you add to your profile is going to be stuck there up to 60 days.

Users can listen to full versions of tracks on other people's play lists, but should your friend remove a track you liked, you'll have to go get it yourself--unless, of course, you're out of track swaps. BlackBerry Messenger Music (really, what was wrong with just BlackBerry Music?) resembles nothing so much as some of the first-generation legal online music stores that charged far too much for far too little. The fact that the company claims "Music can be saved to smartphones for offline listening, allowing users to access songs even when they don’t have wireless coverage," is evidence of just how out of touch executives are with what modern customers expect.