The Blackberry Messenger (BBM) app is to be offered as a download to run on rival platforms.
Blackberry said it would initially offer texts, photo messages and group sharing functions on devices running Google's Android and Apple's iOS operating systems from "the summer".
It added it planned to roll out screen sharing, voice and video calls - all without charge - later in the year.
The move could prove disruptive to Skype, Whatsapp and other rivals.
Blackberry chief executive Thorsten Heins revealed the surprise news at the end of his presentation at the firm's annual developers conference in Orlando, Florida.
The company said that more than 60 million Blackberry owners already used BBM at least once a month.
But Mr Heins played down the idea that offering the feature to rival devices would harm sales of the Canadian company's own handsets.
"You might ask the question why is Blackberry doing this now," said Mr Heins.
He added that for the app to work iPhone users would need at least iOS 6 and Android users the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Google's software. There was no mention of Windows Phone.Wider impact
One analyst said it was too soon to know if the move would force competitors to change their own strategies.
"BBM has been a significant traffic driver for Blackberry - particularly the consumer audience," said Chris Green, principal technology analyst at Davies Murphy Group Europe.
"Expanding it to be multiplatform not only widens the consumer appeal but also may help woo back corporate customers it lost due to earlier technical problems.
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