BlackBerry brings printing into application gamut

In another step toward wireless and wired integration, Waterloo, Ont.-based Research in Motion has announced an alliance that will allow BlackBerry users to print without hooking up to a desktop.

RIM and Kitchener, Ont.-based PrinterOn Corp. announced their alliance to deliver and market PrinterOn’s Wireless Internet Printing application, called PrinterOn PocketWhere for the BlackBerry, which enables users to view, fax and print e-mail and e-mail attachments.

David Yach, vice-president of software at RIM, said this alliance was born out of requests from customers who were tired of having too many steps between receiving a file on their BlackBerry and printing it from their desktop or laptop computer.

“We have the Blackberry which fundamentally delivers e-mail, but we recognize that a lot of people want other applications that helps them in their particular jobs,” he said. “PrinterOn is one of the companies that has used our software development kits and has created an application. We have an ISP program that they participate in and they access our people who are necessary to help them get an application that integrates into our Blackberry device.”

This process is typical of a number of companies developing applications for BlackBerry, he added.

“We have people doing applications in all sorts of different venues,” including medicine, law and others, he said.

George Emerson, vice-president of business development for PrinterOn, said the alliance works because mobile computing is “at its absolute baby-stages right now.” He said BlackBerry was just becoming truly popular when the market was drying up and companies were slashing budgets.

“People decided buying everything (just) to give it a try is a bad idea – but still, you don’t see people saying they are going to give up their BlackBerrys,” he said. “You couldn’t pry it from their dead hands.”

And printing is one of the natural steps toward integration, he said. After all, it was one of the first things desktops had to be enabled to do.

“Because handhelds have to be small, by their nature, (it’s hard) to do anything with a document, even if you can convert it,” he said. “What people do is convert the document to confirm its contents, but if it’s a Word document or even anything with graphics, they are going to want to output that. We allow them to output it to any printer, even the most high-end colour printer.”

The product, which has just become available to corporate and individual customers for a 60-day free trial, works by having users output documents directly from their BlackBerry menu and view Web pages and attachments in 150 file formats from networked printers or fax machines. Users subscribe online and pricing varies according to service levels. Other features include hosted (ASP) and enterprise server solutions, view, fax and print from BlackBerry drop-down menus and Web pages.

“That adds a huge amount of usefulness to the device because it adds the kind of functionality you could previously only get by sitting down at a desktop or firing up your laptop,” Emerson said.

Toronto-based IDC Canada analyst Warren Chaisatien said the PrinterOn solution will go a long way to enhancing the lives of mobile users, even if they don’t necessarily know it yet.

“It is a good product, and it will enhance the productivity of mobile professionals and even I have the experience where I have great information and I can’t print it out,” he said. “It’s a great product, even if IDC Canada just did a study where we looked at business handheld users in Canada and they said the ability to print directly from the handheld is not so important at this point in time.”

Chaisatien said that, in time, printing would become more and more important.

“My take is this ability to print directly will become more important as handhelds become more integrated into the corporate IT infrastructure,” he said.

Yach said his customers are asking for the ability because they want to carry less. In fact, because developers and customers alike are asking for a lot of different applications, RIM is moving quickly into a standards-based Java platform.

“We just launched our 5810 device in North American and the benefit for developers is that the Java platform is a standards-based development platform,” he said. “As an application developer, I can start writing an application that will run on more than just one device, I don’t have to tailor it for every device out there. Because it is a standard platform, their skills are transferable, not just for devices, but for what they are doing on their desktop.”

Yach said the more he researched, the more he found that developers do better application development if they can work with tools that are familiar to them.