A new Blackberry with both Wi-Fi and cellular technology will be released by the end of the year, according to reports.
RIM launched a Wi-Fi only Blackberry last year, intended for use on-campus, or within WLAN-equipped buildings, but dual-mode handsets have been appearing from vendors such as Nokia, and are increasingly equipped for mobile e-mail.
"I say it's about time," said Michael Kwan of Mobile Magazine. "You can't really be a true business machine without some sort of WLAN (preferably G) connectivity." In particular, Wi-Fi could reduce the amount of time Blackberry users spend on cellular data - although in fact Blackberry traffic is quite well optimised.
Although there is a lot of noise about dual-mode phones, they are still rare (Samsung's "Blackberrykiller," launched this week, doesn't have Wi-Fi). RIM has been talking about all sorts of additions, such as a camera, GPS and memory cards, but has to deliver something to keep up with the general purpose smartphones that are moving in on the mobile e-mail market.
Wi-Fi is the most obviously business-like feature to add.
The company still makes the majority of its revenue from hardware, which competitors such as software-based Visto argue is a limitation, as its handsets cannot keep up with the price or performance of mass-market devices.
RIM is therefore also pushing to get Blackberry software on other handsets, with a Palm version of this "Blackberry Connect" software coming this month, according to co-CEO James Balsillie. Blackberry Connect is not widely seen, but apparently there are twenty devices that can use it, with another twenty coming this year.
BlackBerry Connect only works with GSM devices, and the dual-mode Blackberry will be delivered first on the CDMA system.
Wi-Fi enabled devices will become essential as more places provide Wi-Fi. The mayor or Paris has promised to offer free Wi-Fi over a large part of the city with 400 access points, by the end of 2007.