Greg's bite: Blackberry caves in to Dubai
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Greg's bite: Blackberry caves in to Dubai

By Greg Mills

The conflict between RIM and Dubai has been resolved -- and RIM blinked. The issue is that access to Blackberry network data within individual countries is different than other cell phone services, such as an iPhone account through AT&T.  

The authorities can go to the various cellular networks to access account information of suspected terror or crime figures, with a warrant issued by a court of competent jurisdiction. The data resides with the cell provider on its servers. The RIM security problem has come up in India, Saudi Arabia and other countries that are beginning to monitor electronic communications on a national basis.

In some cases the cellular networks roll over and give full access to all information they have on an account, or, in the case of AT&T, they are a bit less forthcoming and demand a warrant for every bit of information they give up. Here Sprint is the easy cellular network to provide customer data, while AT&T is the most secretive with customer information. I like every bit of 
privacy I can get and that is one reason us iPhone customers, who can gripe about the network failings, should praise the efforts of  AT&T to protect our privacy.

Research In Motion (RIM) has developed a following in the business world where a leak of business information to a competitor could be devastating. RIM has all data files on its servers in Canada. They're accessed through encrypted means through the Internet -- so said data can be accessed through any cellular provider. This fundamental difference is the grist of the dispute.  

The data that flows through various cell providers is highly encrypted. That makes it harder, if not impossible, to monitor Blackberry data streams on a local basis. Presumably, RIM will not honor requests to monitor customer data easily, and a national security agency would have to go through the Canadian courts. It is likely a well heeled and savvy national security agency such as the NSA has long ago cracked the Blackberry encryption. Remember the Secret Service frowned upon Obama carrying his beloved BlackBerry for security reasons.

Dubai authorities know criminals and terrorist prefer as secure a system as possible to plan, organize and execute their attacks. The middle east is very security conscious and are much more inclined to sweep privacy issues aside to prevent attacks. 

The problem for RIM is that they can't stand the possible situation where all Blackberry phones get shut down in certain countries. This hits them with a serious dilemma, as they are just launching the new Blackberry Torch. and recent research indicates a large percentage of current RIM customers are planning to buy an iPhone or Android phone ASAP.  According to a recent
Nelson survey of current BlackBerry users, over half intend to abandon their RIM devices in favor of an iPhone or Android phone when their contracts expire. Multiply this as entire companies also dump RIM and you see the worrisome issue RIM faces. While they are the top dog in the market at this time, the writing is "on the wall" that big changes are ahead in the market. 

The RIM version of the Microsoft flop Kin might have just been launched. The Torch BlackBerry device has just been launched to the resounding boos of virtually every tech writer in the media. The problem is that there is nothing compelling about the new device. The iPhone has everything going for it RIM offers. but for a tactile keyboard and a blinking red light on the device to denote an email or text message has come in. Plus, the iPhone has so much more RIM can't provide. The market place, as RIM is finding out, has little gratitude  for yesterday's technology. Projections are grim for RIM.

Apple has adopted serious business software for iPhone, and the advanced color screen and powerful features are certainly craved by RIM users who suffer with a tiny, low res screen, slow processor and a tiny app selection. The clicking tactile keyboard, blinking red light and encrypted data stream are the only features holding them back from going to a modern touch screen device, iPhone or Android.

Apple and others are working on a merger of technologies where a touch screen and tactile, raised keyboard are one and the same. While patents have been issued, it is unknown how close such a screen is to being launched. The red light is a snap to replicate. I am used to the ding on my Apple devices as a message comes in and don't think a blinking light is that big a deal. Apple could add an LED that would blink red for an email, green for a text message and yellow for a calendar event in addition to the sound effects for next to nothing as multicolor LEDs are cheap and the power requirements are minor.

The notion of a clear tactile keyboard that overlays the touch screen is also in the works.  The keys are raised and click as you see through them to read the characters on the keyboard.  Technical issues remain on that variation of the keyboard as well. Frankly, a clicking sound using a pure touch screen approach is perhaps the best we can hope for now.

If RIM opens it's data stream to national security agencies around the world, so that they can no longer claim an edge in security,  Apple adds a cheap little blinking LED to the iPhone and some sort of small tactile keyboard emerges, RIM is toast, covered with  Apple jam, I might add.

(Greg Mills is currently a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Married, with one daughter still at home, Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's web sites at . He can be emailed at gregmills.mac.)


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