BlackBerry Handheld Gives Way to BlackBerry Service

A deal between PalmOne and RIM means handheld users will be able to take advantage of Palm's multimedia features and the BlackBerry's e-mail prowess. But RIM's PocketPC licensees aren't standing still.

PalmOnes and Microsofts handheld computers have had their ups and downs in competition with Research in Motion Ltd.: While their devices comfortably lead RIMs for multimedia and third-party applications, they trail substantially on messaging.

Unfortunately for Palm and Microsoft, while most users can live without MP3 players, video games and pretty pictures, many of us cant wean ourselves from ubiquitous e-mail. (Some folks do it while driving, attending a theatrical event, or during parties on their ever-present RIM BlackBerries).

This gap created the rather significant problem of having to maintain multiple devices: a cell phone for calls, a RIM device for e-mail, and/or a Palm- or Microsoft (Windows Mobile)-based handheld computer for those tasks neither of the other devices could do. Many users simply said, "Forget it" and went back to employing whatever devices they had used before the advent of handheld computers.

What weve been waiting for is a Palm or Windows Mobile handheld computer that also offers a RIM BlackBerry e-mail experience. On the hardware side, such devices already exist. Much of the Palm line has keyboards now, including the new Treo 600 smart phone; on the Windows Mobile side, there is the HP h4350, which has a built-in keyboard. (For those without keyboards, ThinkOutside and Logitech have been supplying keyboard accessories for some time).

Most of these handheld computers will take expansion cards, so adding the needed radio to make the wireless capability work hasnt been a problem, either. Even on the software side, Good Technologies has tried to step in and provide a BlackBerry-like solution. "Like" isnt the same as identical, however, and the market seems to want something much closer to what RIM has then what Good Technologies currently provides.

The promise of a combined device was made earlier this year when RIM announced it would license its technology. However, the company offered few details until now.

That situation changed this week. PalmSource (the software company that separated from PalmOne to form an independent entity) and RIM have formally announced that they are going to forge ahead with a combined solution. While they had a prior agreement under the old, combined company, evidently the separated units were not bound by it; this announcement indicates they will continue to work on a Palm-based BlackBerry solution.

What has not been announced are all of the agreements with folks on the Windows Mobile side (aside from Samsung, which has announced a deal). We understand that other PocketPC vendors have licensed or are in the process of licensing from RIM; these moves could lead to the release of a number of products late next year that combine the capabilities of the platforms into a much more compelling solution then we have today. A good time for these relationships to be made public would be at Januarys CES in Las Vegas; well see who steps up to the plate at the show.

The solution Im looking for is one that (like the Palm Handspring Treo 600) folds all my needs into a single device I can carry with ease. ThinkOutside is circulating a reference design keypad for phones like the Motorola MPx200 that runs the Windows Mobile software; were it designed into the phone, this technology would allow it to morph into a Blackberry. Now, if that device were coupled with the RIM wireless e-mail service, we would be darned close to what I want for Christmas next year. Ill bet there are more then a few of you out there who will be standing in line with me to get one.

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Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.