Blackberry to change colour, show attachments

Visitors to the 3GSM World Congress here in Cannes this week are being given a taste of future Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) Blackberry devices. RIM and independent software vendor Onset Technology Ltd. are demonstrating two different ways of viewing e-mail attachments and access corporate data via RIM’s mobile terminals.

RIM has made a name for itself with pocket devices in sober black, designed for corporate users to access their e-mail wirelessly. In Europe, the devices use the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks of mobile telephone operators.

Now RIM is looking at ways to add a splash of colour to its range, both in the packaging and on the screen.

The company is showing tiny new Blackberry models, the 6200 series, with brightly-coloured plastic cases, as one prong of an attack on the consumer market, according to RIM spokeswoman Tilly Quanjer. The devices will go on sale in the first half of this year, she said. The other prong will be the introduction of a Web client by the end of this year, allowing users to access Web-based e-mail services such as Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail from a Blackberry terminal, she said.

A lot of RIM’s revenue comes from sales of its Enterprise Server software, which links the handheld devices to a corporate e-mail system. RIM will have to find other ways to make money from individual users. “It’s a whole different sales model,” Quanjer said.

Also on display is a Blackberry terminal showing video clips on a colour TFT (thin-film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) screen. Existing models have monochrome LCD screens. The colour display is just a concept device intended to gauge customer reaction, Quanjer said, and the company has no plans to bring it to market.

Turning the Blackberry into a glitzy, colour terminal would negate one of its advantages over PDAs (personal digital assistants) like Hewlett-Packard Co.’s iPaq, according to one user.

“The iPaq is a shiny, desirable object. If you walked down the street with one, you could get hit on the head for it. That’s not a problem with the Blackberry,” said Adam Oliver, head of future access to information at BT Group PLC and a long-time Blackberry user.

Just across the aisle from the Blackberry stand, Onset Technology introduced some new additions to its Metamessage for Wireless software suite in Europe, allowing Blackberry users to remotely retrieve data from corporate databases, and to view attachments in Blackberry mail.

GetData allows mobile users to query document management systems, SQL databases, Web services and proprietary applications from a handheld device. For each data source, a custom form must be created by application development staff using XML (Extensible Markup Language) tools. Access to information can be restricted to particular users or classes of users by designing different forms reflecting security policies, according to Addi Regev, project manager at Onset.

Pricing for the server component of GetData depends on the applications integrated and the number of users. The client is bundled with Onset’s remote printing, file access and attachment viewer tools and could cost around US$200 per seat, although that will vary from country to country, Regev said.

Onset also introduced its e-mail attachment viewer, AttachmentsPlus, to European customers. The software was launched in the U.S. last year, and fills a gap in the basic software provided by RIM: remote users are notified of the existence of an attachment in an e-mail, but can’t see it.

“Blackberry mail is really good, but once you start using it, you want access to your attachments,” Regev said.

RIM agreed, and so a forthcoming update of its Enterprise Server software, Version 3.6, will add the ability to view attachments on the pocket terminals. It will also add the ability to update the server over the air to reflect messages filed, deleted or read on the mobile terminal. That operation currently requires that the Blackberry be placed in its desktop cradle.

Although RIM is demonstrating the new version here, it has not set a release date yet.

“That’s all in beta at the moment with carriers,” said Dave Thornton, sales engineer at RIM. “Availability depends on the market. Probably the U.K. will be first, in two or three months.”