The first ‘Next G’ BlackBerry is on the way. Plus: more on the new BlackBerry OS, and why Mac users remain second-class citizens in the BlackBerry world
As we tipped in our hands-on report
last week this week, RIM’s fresh-baked BlackBerry Bold 9000 will soon join Telstra’s fleet of Next G smartphones. The Bold is the first BlackBerry to support 3G technologies on 850MHz as well as the conventional 2100MHz band, a factor that’s previously kept Telstra’s BlackBerry offerings locked to the 900MHz GSM EDGE network.
Ross Fielding, Executive Director of Telstra Product Management, confirmed to APCmag that Telstra is “working closely with RIM” on the Next G BlackBerry and “looks forward to bringing the Next G BlackBerry to customers in coming months.” We’ve been told that details on the pricing and launch date will be announced shortly.
3, Optus and Vodafone have all been silent on confirming if the BlackBerry Bold will join their existing smartphone stable, which gave us cause for concern – could Telstra have inked a short-term exclusivity deal with RIM in an effort to cut out its competitors for the first few months? Happily, sources in RIM gave the soothing advice that all four carriers would be onboard for an expected local launch around August.
Here are a few other nuggets we picked up during last week’s BlackBerry lovefest in Orlando.
We’ve confirmed that the Bold’s HSDPA radio is rated to 3.6Mbps, which mans it should be good for up to 2Mbps in the real world. It’s true that you don’t need that speed for email – RIM’s incredibly efficient gateway shrinks emails down to just a few kb – but extras such as GPS-based mapping and navigation plus browsing all need substantially more speed than GSM can offer.
Like its current 8707g 3G sibling, the Bold can double as a mobile broadband modem when connected to your notebook via USB cable, but only if your laptop is running Windows 2000, XP or Vista. Those are the only operating systems for which RIM supplies the necessary driver software to turn the BlackBerry 9000 into a modem. Mac users can take a number and wait.
Another neat trick of the BlackBerry Bold is that it works with your iTunes library to sync non-DRM tracks, playlists and even album art into the device’s 1GB of RAM or (more likely) a microSDHC card, which are currently sitting at 8GB capacity for around $80.
The key to this is RIM’s new BlackBerry Media Sync software, which will be included with the Bold but it also expected to be made available as a free download for the Pearl and Curve. The BMS software is a utility which hooks into the iTunes library on your PC, and guess what? It’ll debut for Windows only. Mac users once again get the rough end of the pineapple.
BlackBerry, not MacBerry
Indeed, RIM isn’t showing much love to its Apple-based customers. We asked about rumours that RIM was working to develop its own Macintosh version of the BlackBerry Desktop suite offered to Windows users rather than continue offering the PocketMac utility, which has been widely criticised for either duplicating existing data onto the BlackBerry or wiping the original data from the Mac. But there’s no such beast in the works, or at least nothing that RIM would admit to. It all came down to a desire to support Mac users at some nebulopus stage in the future, mainly because RIM is playing a numbers game – in both the enterprise and consumer worlds Windows remains the dominant force, so it gets all the attention.
(On the bright side we got a glimpse at Missing Sync 2.0, which is due in September and adds support for video transcoding from any QuickTime-supported format, including WMV and DiVX/XviD if you’re installed QuickTime plug-ins for those onto your Mac).
BlackBerry OS 4.6
We also took a longer look at the revamped BlackBerry OS 4.6 that’ll ship with the Bold, as well as the 4.5 version which will be available to existing BlackBerry users once your carrier supports it. That upgrade can be applied to BlackBerry devices in the 8700, 8800, Pearl and Curve families as those models have sufficient RAM to be flash-upgraded, although don’t expect superfast performance from their relatively underpowered processors.
You’ve already seen some glimpses of the lush UI of 4.6, which hinge on the slick ‘Precision’ theme – this will be exclusive to 4.6 as it’s geared to the Bold’s larger screen and higher resolution.
The browser in 4.6 is much improved, with richer support for Java and looking and running more like a miniature desktop browser than the current text-centric offering. The 4.5 browser is a little less Java-friendly but still leagues ahead of what you’re running today. However, despite earlier indications, neither of them support Flash – you can dial up YouTube but you’re actually redirected to the YouTube mobile portal (at http://m.youtube.com) which pushes videos down in the 3GP format using the Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP).
Both 4.5 and 4.6 will include a free bundled version of the Documents to Go 4.5 for BlackBerry which allows users to view and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files in DOC, XLS and PPT formats. This includes files sent as email attchments as well as stored on a microSD card or even beamed across via Bluetooth. A free mid-year update will add support for the newer XML-based formats introduced in Office 2007 for Windows and Office 2008 for Mac.
And we have to admit, we’re more taken than we should be with the new clock applet in OS 4.6. It’s the current Alarm utility beefed up with a stopwatch, countdown timer and a choice of clock styles (including a ye olde
clock-radio ‘flip’ look) with a nifty ‘bedside’ mode which will automatically disable the radio and LED.
The other big step forward is the introduction of HTML support in the BlackBerry email client, which is currently displays all incoming emails as text-only messages. This will also require your ISP or company upgrading to new versions of the BlackBerry Internet Server (BIS) or BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) software which pushes email to your BlackBerry – those new editions are due in the middle of the year.
We were curious about the impact of large highly-formatted and often graphics-laden HTML emails on the BlackBerry, which is known for its incredibly efficient server-side compression of emails. How much compression could it apply to HTML, and would the larger messages threaten to push users over the limit of their BlackBerry data account if that account is fixed to a low ceiling such as 1.5MB – which is ample for tiny text-based emails, but not for HTML?
A RIM spokesman described told us that the email client delivers closer to ‘rich text’ than the full HTML experience. RIM’s servers won’t send raw HTML, he said – they strip out all extraneous tags (which often contribute to HTML email bloat) and also ‘prioritise the text’ so that the BlackBerry user still sees that content first. Font style and size are also mapped to the BlackBerry handheld’s defaults and heading sizes are set as ‘relative’ to the handheld’s body font. Inline images are resized and sent as part of the email, but links to external images are replaced with blank placeholders.David Flynn attended the Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) in Orlando, Florida as a guest of RIM.