Monday, November 17, 2008

Why did the "Blackberry" ever happen?

TERMINAL 2 TARMAC -- There's a New York Times article this morning about Barack Obama's devotion to his Blackberry. They expect he'll have to give it up. It's odd to me that the Research-In-Motion (RIM) Blackberry beset both the Windows CE / Mobile world, and the PalmOS Treo world.

What they have is called "push" email: your email comes to your phone as soon as it's available. You don't have to log-in and ask to download it.

For some reason, the other guys failed to see this was important. Either of them could have exploited IMAP IDLE, an Internet protocol that accomplishes the same thing, but with an ordinary email account instead of a fancy Blackberry account. For example, "Chatter Mail" for Palm does this.

Perhaps the reason is an accident of the cell phone companies' pricing. Unlimited data access as part of a cell phone plan hasn't always been available. My phone has unlimited EV-DO, so using Chatter Mail on my Treo 755p carries no monthly cost.

When Blackberry came out, I'll bet they had to rely on something else -- maybe GPRS or some such. Or maybe they encode emails into SMS texts. They built something to work in a more-constrained environment than the one I'm in today.

Still, Blackberry is a major force now. It's an example of how technical decisions and self-limitations at established tech companies can create an opening for a new member.

Maybe the next president can just get an SSL-IMAP account to the mail.whitehouse.gov server.

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