This week's annual conference for BlackBerry users comes at a critical time for the device's creator, Research in Motion.
RIM faces a huge opportunity as 3G networks spread, providing workable access to applications and data for traditional enterprise users and new consumer users. But it also faces growing competition from Microsoft to win allegiance to a mobile platform, and from new entrant Apple, whose iPhone has dramatically highlighted what a mobile experience can actually accomplish.
Via blogs, BlackBerry users have been speculating for weeks about RIM's possible moves at the Wireless Enterprise Symposium in the US. Many are chomping at the bit, eager to get their hands on even a beta version of BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0 (code-named Argon), announced at last year's conference and notable mainly for its absence since, and on several new smartphones, including the still-unannounced BlackBerry 9000, and a possible flip phone (or clamshell) model.
There hasn't been a formal beta test announced for BES 5.0. And previous speculation anticipated a mid-2008 release. Currently, users and analysts now are expecting a release late in 2008. At least four sessions at the conference are devoted to this major new version.
Among the new features:
- A new, extensible, Web-based management interface, dubbed "BlackBerry Administration Services".
- "Unified application management" to give BES administrators the ability to oversee Java, BlackBerry MDS Studio, and browser applications, a vital element in turning BES into a mobile application deployment and management platform.
- Expanded suite of APIs.
- Integration with Microsoft Active directory, part of RIM's effort to make BES a platform for emerging trends such as unified communications.
- Automated failover of a primary BES 5.0 server to a standby (and a manual failover option that can be used for server maintenance and software updates).
New details of the BlackBerry 9000 started leaking earlier this month, and it's widely expected to be formally unveiled this week. Three apparently bona fide 9000 smartphones were offered on eBay, where Kevin Michaluk bought one (for US$828), and practically took it apart for a highly-detailed, three-part review at the Crackberry Web site.
The 9000 will be similar in size and shape to the BlackBerry Curve C221, which like the Pearl, has a more consumer-oriented design, 1GB onboard storage, 128MB flash memory for applications, and is expected to run Version 4.6 of the BlackBerry operating system. It will apparently be a dual-mode phone, with 802.11abg Wi-Fi and multiple cellular interfaces including High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) for 3G networks. The 9000 apparently will have a full HTML browser, and that's likely to get close attention, because BlackBerry smartphones have been repeatedly criticized for their poor browsing experience compared with rivals.
One BlackBerry fan site, The Boy Genius Report, posted earlier this month photos and specifications of what appears to be a BlackBerry flip phone called KickStart. The specs outline a quad-band phone, with the 4.6 operating system, 16-bit color LCDs, 802.11bg radio, a 2 megapixel camera, and a SureType keyboard.