Blackberry Software Makes A Valid Showing
The BlackBerry - the squat, rectangular gizmo provides e-mail on the go, and includes, incidentally, a cellphone. Holding it to the ear to make a call feels like calling with a wallet, which is about the same size. But when held in both hands to read and fire off e-mail, it works like a dream.
Introduced in 1999, the BlackBerry brand has become synonymous with the concept of ultraportable e-mail. More than one million subscribers are paying for the service, which costs between $35 and $50 a month. BlackBerry's maker, Research in Motion, based in Waterloo, Ontario, is profitable, and the gadget has been touted by celebrities. Oprah, for one, has stated her personal opinion of the BlackBerry forthrightly: ''Love it! Love it! Love it! Love it!''
That all said, it's not too early to point out that, looking down the road a bit, the hand-held BlackBerry's future is dim.
When a company introduces a brilliant melding of hardware and software that allows us to do something with previously unrivalled ease, we are inclined to embrace it so gratefully that we will pay any price to obtain it. And we are so delighted to have it that we cannot imagine for a long while how the pioneer could ever be seriously challenged.
Today, the BlackBerry faces formidable competition. A well-financed Silicon Valley start-up, Good Technology, has developed software that is arguably superior to BlackBerry's. It is the first to continuously and wirelessly synchronize every module of Outlook, needing no cradle to connect gadget to computer. The BlackBerry has yet to catch up.
Most significantly, Good has written its software to run on an array of phones and hand-held devices -- whatever runs Palm or Microsoft software. Danny Shader, Good's chief executive, compares his company with the BlackBerry this way: ''We're a Windows application -- they're the Macintosh.''
PalmOne has provided Good with its first major opportunity to become better known with the introduction of the much-praised Treo 600, which offers a terrific phone, a personal digital assistant running the familiar Palm applications, a qwerty keyboard and the option of Good software. A tiny Web browser and a camera are included, too. The Treo is the same length as a BlackBerry and only a half-inch narrower, but it looks svelte with almost the similar configuration of a BlackBerry software.
It isn't cheap. Even with carrier rebates, it is as expensive as a comparable BlackBerry. Verizon, for example, just introduced it in a service package for $450. The Treo demonstrates, however, that for someone who wants to carry only a single device, a well-designed cellphone that can also smoothly handle e-mail beats a BlackBerry pressed into dual service as a shoe phone.