BlackBerry aims at consumer market

RIM and T-Mobile are to take the popular wireless organiser to the street, with the UK's first retail offering of the BlackBerry outside the enterprise

Research In Motion is extending its BlackBerry wireless organisers, popular with corporations, to UK consumers for the first time through a deal with T-Mobile.

Under the agreement, announced on Wednesday, T-Mobile will sell BlackBerry organisers through its retail outlets and will provide wireless email and Web browsing access over its network.

The enterprise version of RIM's technology is aimed at companies willing to install server-side software that pushes messages and calendar events from the corporate network across to BlackBerry devices. This service has been offered in the UK by O2 since 2001.

Until now, there was no option in the UK for smaller businesses or independent professionals who wanted wireless email access via a BlackBerry, although such services have been available for some time in the US. T-Mobile USA set up a similar partnership for the US market last year.

RIM's organisers pioneered the concept of the wireless organiser offering real-time access to corporate email, address and calendar information. The devices typically lack features common in consumer-oriented PDAs, such as a music or video player, but are designed to make it simple to read and respond to messages. For example, the BlackBerry was one of the first PDAs to sport a built-in QWERTY thumb-sized keyboard, a feature imitated by Handspring, Palm, Sony and others with their wireless devices.

T-Mobile said that even with the shift to retail, its BlackBerry offering is still business-focused. "The business user is a critical market, with more than 25 percent of the workforce now mobile," said Nikesh Arora, T-Mobile's chief marketing officer, in a statement. "We are determined to... increase the usability of business data communication whilst on the move."

T-Mobile will allow users to synchronise the devices with the company's own T-Email service or other POP3 or IMAP4 email accounts. The devices can run Java programs and feature an integrated phone. The devices should be available in the second quarter.

Germany was the first European country to get BlackBerry devices that could double as a mobile phone when T-Mobile rolled out the BlackBerry 5820 there last June.

If it moves, we cover it. See ZDNet UK's Mobile Technology News Section for the latest news, reviews and price checks on mobile phones, PDAs, notebook computers and anything else you can take away.

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