RIM gives a voice to handheld computers

Research in Motion Ltd. last month released its latest voice-enabled handheld – the BlackBerry 6750 – and announced that it will run on Bell Canada’s 1X CDMA network.

The 6750 features wireless e-mail, dual-band phone, short messaging service (SMS), browser and organizer applications, as well as support for Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME).

“It’s fantastic,” said Nigel Chubb, IT manager at Fujitsu in Ottawa. “Having been a user for quite a while of the older editions – I had an 857 – this is a whole different product. It’s got the act together that was missing before – the cell phone part added to the existing BlackBerry is a fantastic thing. It’s very difficult to do without, actually.”

Fujitsu is beta-testing both the BlackBerry 6750 and the 6710, RIM’s voice-enabled handheld released last fall that runs on Rogers Communications Inc. GSM GPRS network. Currently, only senior executives at Fujitsu are using the new handheld, but Chubb said the firm would be slowly deploying it to its other employees.

“It was slow to take off because there was no cell phone originally,” Chubb said. “Now that the cell phone is attached to them I think [adoption] is going to accelerate somewhat.”

However, Chubb also pointed out that the BlackBerry is not an intuitive device. That means that to understand how the device works, users would need to read the manual, especially individuals who don’t have a lot of experience with computers.

In tandem with the release of the 6750, RIM also released its new BlackBerry Web Client. This allows users to access their Internet Service Provider (ISP)-hosted e-mail accounts. Users already have the capability to access their corporate accounts through the BlackBerry server software if their company uses Microsoft Corp.’s Exchange, Novell Inc.’s GroupWise or IBM’s Lotus Domino. However, devices can be configured to use both the server software and the Web client so that users can access both their corporate and ISP-hosted accounts.

A new capability was added to version 3.5 of the server software last fall called the Mobile Data Service (MDS). It allows developers to connect to the BlackBerry enterprise servers using standard HTTP connectivity.

“That allows developers to push data from other types of applications to BlackBerry handhelds, while still leveraging the secure connection,” said Mark Guibert, vice-president, brand management at RIM in Waterloo, Ont. This means that files from programs such as Microsoft Excel, for example, can be pushed out to the handhelds. Guibert said RIM provides triple DES encryption between the server and the device.

Alex Slawsby, a research analyst for the smart handheld devices group at International Data Corp. in Boston, said that RIM’s new strategy of licensing its technology coupled with its new voice-enabled handhelds not only widens its market but also marks a new era in its marketing strategy. He said RIM’s heritage lies in data-only paging products with a relatively limited feature set. The ability to operate on multiple types of wireless networks is also an upside for RIM, he added.

“It’s an important strategy, making a device available that works on a number of networks and licensing their technology,” Slawsby said. RIM recently licensed its technology to Nokia.

For more information, visit www.rim.com.