Having gained a loyal following of corporate users for its BlackBerry wireless message devices, Research In Motion Ltd. is ready to move beyond e-mail.
The Waterloo, Ontario, company this week will announce plans to support wireless calendar synchronization; wireless downloads from GoAmerica Communications Corp., in Hackensack, N.J.; and Web content from AvantGo Inc. on its BlackBerry-branded devices and server software.
"RIMs a unique platform because it offers the only consistently connected device," said Richard Owen, CEO of AvantGo, in Hayward, Calif., which is releasing Version 4.0 of its wireless access software at the end of the month, along with its support for BlackBerry.
The RIM network is arguably slow, at 9.6K bps, but because they use push technology, the devices—which look like pagers with larger screens and tiny keyboards—are always connected to their server.
Indeed, at the CTIA Wireless show here last week, attendees with BlackBerry devices seemed to be among the few who werent suffering from the classic trade-show-floor, signal-jamming, cell-phone-cursing inability to connect to the network.
Nonetheless, RIM is aware of the limitations of its current networks. Last week, the company announced a partnership with Lucent Technologies Inc. to support several upcoming wireless standards, including Code Division Multiple Access 2000, Universal Mobile Telecommunications System and GPRS. RIM has plans for GPRS as soon as this summer with trials through BT Cellnet, in London, officials said.
Most wireless vendors—from carriers to handset makers—are planning some type of always-on connection.
"It wont be long before RIM loses that advantage," said Fran Rabuck, practice leader for mobile technology at Alliance Consulting, in Philadelphia.
The new wireless calendar synchronization feature enables the handheld device to update itself automatically with the online calendar and vice versa. It also offers the ability to accept or decline meetings from the calendar and to invite attendees to meetings via the handheld address book.
The support of GoAmericas Go. Web Version 6.0 enables the BlackBerry to download MobileClips. With them, BlackBerry users can install applications to the device wirelessly. MobileClips include Palm query applications from Palm Inc.s wireless Web service, Palm.net, as well as other wireless Web content.
On the back end, behind the corporate firewall, RIM has no immediate plans to support anything beyond its own wireless devices: the RIM 950, which is the size of a pager and costs $349, and the 957, which costs $499, officials said. The server software costs $2,999.
Thats a gamble, as companies such as ThinAirApps Inc. are gaining ground with corporate customers by supporting myriad devices.
Having a one-stop shop for devices and server software might not be a bad idea, but corporate customers have noted that RIM makes more money from its back-end product than from its devices. There is concern that this might mean a dearth of innovation on the client side from RIM.
"RIM is more interested in selling their server than their devices," Rabuck said. "That, in the end, could be their demise."
On the hardware front, RIM will start testing a GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) device in Europe later this year. The company also has plans for a new BlackBerry device that will support Java.