Love in the Time of Blackberries
With Apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’m in love but not with an Angel this time but with a Blackberry.

Before you decide that I have developed an unhealthy obsession with soft fruit, I should point out that a Blackberry is a Palm-style organiser, with one rather interesting extra feature. It’s a wireless GPRS device, which delivers my Outlook email to me, wherever I happen to be. In bed, on my motorcycle or even in the bath, there’s no escape from the presence of the 24*7 world anymore unless you press the “off” key.

You may remember that a couple of weeks ago, I was struggling with my IPAQ Pocket PC and my Ericsson mobile phone, trying to source my email, at high speed, in much the same way. Of course, the principal difference with the Blackberry, is that it’s already configured and it works much like a mobile phone, which it is, if you plug-in the earpiece as well. The one I have has BTCellnet engraved on the front – now O2 - and the company (Research in Motion in the UK) has also signed a fourteen country roaming agreement with Vodafone.

This isn’t really a product review, as the Blackberry, in principle isn’t really different to a host of other devices and probably has the most annoying miniature keyboard in the world – why they didn’t go for Palm-style pen input or a virtual keyboard is anyone’s guess -. No, what’s interesting about the Blackberry is that it introduces wireless GPRS to the Enterprise customer as an adjunct to the existing Mail Server infrastructure.

I recall, many years ago, trying to convince the Marketing Director of Lotus Development that investing in mobile phones might be a good idea for the sales team. They were of course expensive, the size and weight of a brick and Lotus simply couldn’t see the point. After all, wasn’t that why we had phone boxes? A year later, they changed their minds and from that point on, they couldn’t do business without them.

Again, nobody believed that SMS would be popular and yet today, the networks strain to keep up with the SMS traffic, particularly between lovers wishing each other goodnight in the evenings around 10 PM until midnight, when it’s mostly likely to grind to a halt.

To be honest, I find the Blackberry to be a great relief. Not only can I synchronise my Outlook client’s calendar, notes, tasks and contacts as well as receive and send SMS messages but also I don’t worry that I’m missing email when I’m out of the office. It finds me. It is of course desperately sad to think that email is becoming as 24*7 as the mobile phone and I don’t doubt that untold numbers of people will very soon be falling victim to careless car drivers attempting to read their inbox behind the wheel.
But telecoms convergence has been a fast approaching reality for a decade now.

Having a single device that does everything has been a dream for harassed road-warriors for a long time and in the case of the Blackberry, however daft the keyboard happens to be, they have a single solution, which allows them to sit and watch TV with their families in the evening rather than run out and check their email on their laptops every thirty minutes, as email addicts invariably do. In fact, Blackberries might be good for relationships, although I would recommend switching it off in bed! – Speaking as one who once had the direction of his love life shattered by an incoming mobile phone call –

Love and money don’t mix well together and that’s really the issue with wireless GPRS solutions like the Blackberry, once they become widely available. Thanks to the government squeezing every last drop of blood from the mobile phone companies during the 3G-license auction GPRS isn’t cheap and the Enterprise Server software from 02 (remember that was BT but they are trendier now) costs £2,500 for a twenty-user license. On top of this a company has to factor in the cost of each unit at between £350 and £400 and the monthly connection charge per user which lies between £30 and £40.

An affair with a Blackberry could cost you rather more than a fling with an Angel but it comes with much less threat of a broken heart – Vive La Difference is all I can say.

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