Friday 10 February 2006

BlackBerry? BlackCherry? StealthBerry? -- Workaround or death rattle?

RIM -- Canadian maker of the seminal BlackBerry wireless email-and-other-things device -- has been talking about its proposed workarounds for alleged patent infringement issues. (Quick summary: patent holding company NTP seeks injunction preventing RIM offering BlackBerry service in U.S., cites patent infringements on "push" email.)

There are confused reports, but it seems there are two separate issues, each with their own workaround:

  1. What happens when the user is out of coverage -- where is the incoming message queued? Workaround #1 queues the message at the server on the customer premises. Currently, messages are queued at RIM's network operations centers (NOCs).
  2. What happens when a message arrives -- does the user need to do anything to receive it? Workaround #2 involves turning the BlackBerry "push" model into a "push/pull" model. Users will only get the message headers pushed to them. Some reports indicate that users will need to press a button to request that the message body be downloaded.

RIM's public position is that NTP's patents are invalid. However, in case of legal injunction, workaround #1 is all that is necessary. However, it looks like RIM is also secretly readying workaround #2 just in case. I've not been briefed by RIM on #2 -- this information is coming from anonymous RIM customers.

The user isn't likely to perceive any impact from workaround #1 -- it will simply delay some messages by a few seconds. However, workaround #2 is a different matter. If the anonymous reports are to be believed, #2 basically breaks the BlackBerry secret sauce. If the user needs to think about receiving messages, it isn't a BlackBerry any more -- it's just a wireless email device just like any other, except with a rather ugly on-screen graphic design. Users who are, say, riding the subway won't be able to read messages unless they explicitly pulled them before moving out of the coverage area.

RIM needs to avoid workaround #2 at all costs.

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