BlackBerry Plans Ripen
August 15, 2005
By Carmen Nobel
Research In Motion Ltd. is poised to introduce several new BlackBerry client and server products and is also working with partners to help non-RIM devices operate with its BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
Next month, the mobile e-mail device and software vendor will release BlackBerry Mobile Data Services Version 4.1, which will focus on Web services. The software, which runs on BES, will enable corporate customers to design customized, Web-based applications in a matter of hours, according to officials at the Waterloo, Ontario, company.
"That's an enormous step forward for us," said Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO of RIM. "We're definitely pumped about where MDS is going."
By the end of the year, RIM will introduce a new version of behind-the-firewall BES itself, with updates that focus mostly on fault tolerance, officials said.
"That's really where the direction of the product is going," Balsillie said. "Once you have the e-mail, PIM [personal information manager] and voice and the Notes, Exchange and GroupWise thing down, what you really want is uptime," Balsillie said.
Uptime has been a recent concern for BlackBerry users, who experienced two widespread service outages in June—one attributed to a system configuration change and the other to hardware failure. The outages lasted just a few hours each but were especially painful for users who depend on the service for corporate e-mail.
On the client side, RIM is working to make devices other than its own BlackBerrys run on BES, through RIM's BlackBerry Connect licensing program. By the end of the year, there will be several third-party devices, which run on either Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Mobile or PalmSource Inc.'s Palm OS, enabled to run on BES, Balsillie said.
Balsillie also hinted at a partnership with Motorola Inc., a company that has lately been hailed as a RIM competitor. Motorola last month introduced the Q, a wireless phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, which is similar in form to Motorola's Razr phone. The Q has been widely reported as "the RazrBerry," but Balsillie maintains that the RazrBerry is actually the code name of a different device that has yet to be announced. "Q and RazrBerry are not the same product," he said. "There are some very core differences."
Motorola officials, however, said they have no plans for a product based on RIM's BlackBerry operating system.
"At this time, we are committed to Windows Mobile on the Q platform and have no plans to deliver a RIM-specific device," said Jason Gordon, manager of mobile enterprise and technology communications at Motorola, in Schaumburg, Ill. "With Windows Mobile 5.0, the Q has the potential to utilize Exchange 2003 out of the box as well as run a variety of third-party enterprise-grade e-mail solutions such as BlackBerry Connect, Good [Technology Inc.'s GoodLink] and others."
RIM is also dealing with an ongoing lawsuit with NTP Inc., of Arlington, Va., which sued RIM for patent infringement in November 2001.
The case went through several steps that led to the announcement of a $450 million settlement in March. But the settlement fell apart two months later when each party accused the other of not following the terms of the settlement.
While the court rulings have been inconsistent, all have determined that RIM did infringe on at least some of NTP's patents. As a result, RIM announced in June that the company had developed a workaround technology that does not infringe on NTP's patents and that RIM could use this workaround if NTP wins its case. (RIM maintains that the outages were not related to workaround tests.)
"The workaround is there to ensure continuity of service, but we have given no details on it at this time," Balsillie said.
At this point, the case has dragged on long enough that it does not seem to be a major concern for customers or industry analysts.
"The lawsuit is always in the back of my mind but so far has not affected any purchasing or support decisions," said Nicholas Gass, IT manager at Color Kinetics Inc., a digital lighting company in Boston.
"We have said that clients should not concern themselves with the lawsuit," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "Who knows when it will end or what it will mean? We have said that no judge is going to take action that will put American business at a loss by crippling them in taking the BlackBerry away from them."