RIM opens platform to hardware manufacturers

Research In Motion (RIM), makers of the BlackBerry devices, joined the growing number of handheld and handset manufacturers offering their reference design to third-party hardware and software developers in an attempt to gain market share.

Microsoft Corp.; PalmSource Inc., the OS division of Palm Inc.; Symbian Ltd.; and Nokia Corp. are among the other major manufacturers that have made similar announcements.

In addition to making the "hardware and software" blueprint available, RIM will offer consulting services, interoperability testing, and a certification program.

By also announcing a closer relationship with its chip supplier Analog Devices Inc. (ADI), RIM will get entry to ADI's customer base which includes more than 25 handset ODMs.

"ADI has the lion's share of independent handset manufacturers after the majors," said Jim Balsillie, chairman and co-CEO at Rim in Waterloo, Ontario.

The ADI processor is a single chip design which includes both the digital signal processor for communications and the application processor as well as the Sun JVM. ADI optimized the chip for GSM/GPRS wireless networks, according to Balsillie.

The latest RIM models already support Sun's J2ME. But some developers say the RIM environment is still too restrictive.

"RIM is a great device for doing e-mail, but J2ME is fairly limited for handhelds. It's good for the handset market," said Anthony Meadow, president of Bear River Associates in Oakland, Calif.

But on the handset, J2ME appears to be the platform of choice among most of the major handset manufacturers, as well as the carriers with Nokia, Motorola, AT&T Wireless ,and Nextel all announcing support for J2ME as the standard for application development.

With a huge diversity of choice as the handset manufacturers try to please millions of consumers, Balsillie says Java is the perfect platform.

"Java virtualizes the processor so that developers are writing to a virtual processor that allows them to abstract all operating systems and the hardware that is particular underneath. A virtual machine means I don't care what the OS is or hardware is, just give me a common VM," said Balsillie.

Although Palm offers its OS to handheld and handset manufacturers, the difference, according to Balsillie, is that the Palm OS is a particular implementation and does not allow for the same level of product diversification.

"Sun's Java is a specification, not an implementation. Every hardware is different. Sun is a spec and a policeman to make sure you adhere to that spec," Balsillie added.

Nevertheless, RIM is increasingly faced with the fact that as packet-based wireless networks become ubiquitous, the always-on capabilities of the RIM, which first attracted many corporate users, is no longer a differentiator.

In particular, the Palm i705, the Handspring Treo, and the many smart phones with the same e-mail capabilities are now in the market.

Pricing and availability were not announced.