RIM Gives BlackBerry a Voice

In a move to compete against both cell phone and handheld computer companies, Research in Motion introduces a voice-enabled version of its BlackBerry pager into the U.S. market.

In a move to compete against both cell phone and handheld computer companies, Research in Motion Ltd. this week introduced a voice-enabled version of its BlackBerry pager into the U.S. market.

The BlackBerry 5810 will run on the GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) network and will be available within the next 30 days from carriers who support that network--AT&T Wireless and VoiceStream Wireless Inc. initially and Cingular Wireless later in the year, according to company officials in Waterloo, Canada.

Pricing will be determined by the carriers, but the device is expected to cost around $500 in addition to various monthly service packages.

The device will work with RIMs BlackBerry Enterprise Server, which many corporations have deployed behind their firewall, so there is no need to buy additional software on the back end, officials said.

The 5810 uses Java2 Micro Edition as its core operating system. That, along with its support for GPRS, is what RIM officials hope will set it apart from the competition.

"You can talk and use the data at the same time, which is great," said Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of RIM. "Bottom line is with the availability of 2.5G coupled with the power of a Java platform, weve basically implemented earlier and better than our competitors."

Handspring Inc. recently introduced a handheld device that combines phone, PDA and e-mail pager, but the device supports only GSM and not GPRS, meaning the wireless voice and data functions cannot run simultaneously.

The new BlackBerry also supports Short Messaging Service, which enables exchange of text messages without adding e-mail to the in-box.

RIM shipped a voice-enabled BlackBerry to European carriers last year, but those carriers did not turn on the voice functions. Balsillie said the American carriers fully intend to do so.

RIM also has plans for a Web-based application called BlackBerry Web Client, which will support POP3, IMAP and ISP e-mail protocols and enable users to access multiple accounts from a single Blackberry device. The application will be available both to customers with individual BlackBerry accounts and those who use the devices to access information behind a corporate firewall. However, corporate IT managers who run the BlackBerry Enterprise Server will have the ability to prevent access to personal ISP accounts. The client will be available to carriers in the spring, officials said.

In the meantime, RIM is forging partnerships with several companies to bring the BlackBerrys data functions beyond basic e-mail access.

Xerox Corp. and RIM this week announced that Xeroxs mDoc 3.0 software now supports the RIM platform, meaning that customers can use the BlackBerry to access and edit e-mail attachments, such as forms and contracts, and then resend them.

RIM also announced a deal with Cognos Inc., wherein the RIM BlackBerry can now access Cognos NoticeCast alerting software. NoticeCast alerts users about various changes in customer relationship management, supply chain activity and financial performance among other things, according to the users specifications.

Supporting new applications means supporting more graphics, and Balsillie said the company is conscious of this.

"Were very focused on new graphical engines," he said.

A software-based graphics upgrade will be available in the spring, he said. And as far as a BlackBerry with a color screen, "Thats the kind of thing were looking at for 2003," he said.