BlackBerry Maker Announces Software for Rival Devices

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. is introducing a software application that can make Palm Treos and other Windows-based mobile devices made by rivals work like a BlackBerry.

The software, due in the fall, is designed to extend BlackBerry's dominance by offering an option to individuals who may not want to switch devices to get the service, and to companies that would like to give employees a wider selection of handhelds without being forced to support multiple mobile e-mail platforms.

The application replaces the Windows layout and icons on the display with the look of the BlackBerry interface, customized to the specific buttons and screen size of that device. A non-BlackBerry device would then be able to connect with BlackBerry servers for e-mail, calendar, address book and other applications written for the platform by RIM and third-party developers.

A user would be able to toggle back and forth between the two platforms if they want, for example, to use the Windows Media Player to listen to music.

RIM already offers a BlackBerry Connect e-mail application that can run on devices with other platforms, including Windows, Symbian and the Palm-based variation of the Treo from Palm Inc. The company is developing the new BlackBerry virtualization software to run on multiple platforms as well but declined to say which one would be released next.

Because the BlackBerry emulator is being written for Windows Mobile 6.0, the newest version of Microsoft Corp.'s platform, it won't be compatible with most existing Windows-based handhelds without an upgrade of the operating system.

So far, makers of Windows-based smart phones have introduced few models running on 6.0, but the numbers are expected to increase over the course of this year. Microsoft says there are more than 140 handsets running on version 5.0, including smart phones.

RIM said it was unknown whether there would be a charge to download the software, or if it might come free with a subscription to BlackBerry service, which generally costs from $30 to $50 a month. As RIM provides its devices and service to customers through wireless carriers, those details are still to be decided.

Jim Balsillie, RIM's co-chief executive, said the company's corporate clients made it clear that they would prefer to standardize around a single mobile e-mail platform, but not be confined to BlackBerry devices, "which seemingly was a paradox."

"You have a responsibility of either supporting openness or you're not the standard platform," said Balsillie. "If you don't do this you're really not giving the carriers and corporations what they expect."