BlackBerry Adds Google IM, Maps

By Matt Hines  |  Posted 2006-01-12

BlackBerry Adds Google IM, Maps

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion announced Thursday that it has established a new relationship with Google Inc. through which users of the wireless communications devices can access the search giants instant messaging, local search and geographic mapping tools.

Under the deal, terms of which were not detailed, the companies will launch Google Talk for BlackBerry, a customized version of the search providers online IM client software designed specifically for use on RIMs handhelds.

Due sometime in Spring 2006, the system will allow people who have existing accounts with Google for its Gmail Web e-mail application to send and receive IM messages from their BlackBerry, as well as edit their Google Talk buddy lists and see if their contacts are logged onto the messaging system.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google said that users will be able to access the system by signing in with their Gmail user information and passwords, and promised that the IM software will allow people to integrate the application with its desktop messaging tools.

The system will have ties to RIMs onboard e-mail and calendar applications as well, offering the capability for users to share information between the various communications platforms.

As part of the new relationship between Google and RIM, which is based in Ontario, Canada, BlackBerry customers also gain immediate access to Google Local for mobile, the companys localized search tool that offers maps and satellite images to wireless devices, as well as driving directions and business listings.

The Google Local package features so-called click-to-call functions for many of the business listings it indexes, which promises the ability for users to dial phone numbers listed in the system with the push of a single button.

Both Google applications will be offered to BlackBerry customers for free, aside from their existing wireless data plan charges.

"Instant messaging and local content are two increasingly important areas of focus for mobile applications, and we are very pleased to work with Google," Mark Guibert, vice president of marketing at RIM, said in a statement.

"Google Talk for BlackBerry and Google Local for mobile will offer additional flexibility to BlackBerry customers in terms of how, when and where they stay in touch."

Next Page: Googles partnerships.

Googles Partnerships

The BlackBerry deal marks only the latest in a string of partnerships established by Google in order to get its mobile search and communications tools into the hands of more wireless users.

At the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) held in Las Vegas last week, handset maker Motorola Inc. announced that it will soon begin selling Internet-ready mobile phones that offer access to Googles search engine by clicking a button on the devices key pad.

Google is also the default search tool offered on the Treo wireless devices built by RIM rival Palm Inc., and has established a partnership with browser maker Opera Software in December through which some of its search features will be included in the firms Opera Mini software for mobile devices, slated to arrive sometime this month, as well as in its existing Opera Mobile wireless application.

In addition to pushing its communications and search applications onto mobile devices, it is also believed that the company is exploring ways to bring its successful online advertising system, dubbed AdWords, onto the small screen.

For RIM, the Google announcement stands as a high-profile deal struck amid the companys continued legal battles in its patent war with NTP Inc.

While that fight has begun looking up for RIM in recent weeks, based on several favorable rulings from the U.S. Patent Office, the fight over wireless communications technology designs has at times threatened to shut down RIMs 3.5 million subscriber strong BlackBerry e-mail service.

Click here to read more about RIMs patent battles.

At least one analyst said that the Google Local offering is the sort of application that could actually spur more device owners to begin using Internet services on the mobile devices.

While many other wireless handhelds already offer Internet capabilities, said Avi Greengart, analyst with Washington-based Current Analysis, most people refrain from using the applications much since the content they are trying to view doesnt mesh well with smaller screens.

With the work Google has done to bring its local search to the BlackBerry and other devices, Greengart says he believes its a tool that could drive wireless Internet adoption.

"The mainstream user might have access to the Internet on their device today, but its not all that easy to use or attractive, so something like Local, which has been tailored to work better on a mobile device, could help increase adoption," Greengart said.

"Bringing Google onto the device is also a good message for RIM to offer its customers, as they want to have anything attractive thats out there."

With mobile instant messaging, Greengart said hes less convinced that there are significant numbers of wireless users ready to adopt the applications, even though he feels that devices such as RIMs, which offer a more complete keyboard than a cell phone, are more likely to encourage customers to try the tools out.

"IM makes no sense on any device with a QWERTY keyboard, as you lose the instant instant messaging if you have to take a lot of time pounding out a message," he said.

"RIM offers something better than a phone, but for now I think [short message service] works fine for most people; you dont expect a reply for several minutes, rather than seconds, and it doesnt have the same presence expectation as IM where youre wondering why someone doesnt reply to your message."

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