U.S. smartphone leader Research In Motion is not about to go quietly into the night and make way for the Android army and the iPhone. On Monday, RIM offered another peek at its forthcoming BlackBerry 6 operating system -- an OS that could well determine the company's ultimate fate -- and introduced a free data backup and protection service.
The new security application, called BlackBerry Protect, will let users back up their data remotely and locate a lost or stolen phone. In a blog posted on the BlackBerry site, product manager Michael Accettura said that a beta version will be available on a limited basis later this week, and it will get rolled out to a larger audience later this year.
BlackBerry Protect, explained Accettura, allows users to back up their contacts, calendar, memos and text messages as frequently as they like. "Also, once the first backup is completed, only incremental data is backed up (i.e. new data since the last backup) to reduce data usage," said Accettura.
If, say, your BlackBerry is wedged in the couch and you can't find it, you can log into the BlackBery Protect site and activate the "loud ring" feature, causing your phone to ring for a minute at full volume, even if it's set on silent.
In the case of a more permanently misplaced phone, a user can lock it down via the Web portal and set a "lost and found" screen with their contact information. The Web portal also lets you pinpoint the phone's location using its GPS and, if worse comes to worse, do a remote data wipe.
BlackBerry Enterprise Server users already have most of these features, and iPhone users have Apple's MobileMe. But while MobileMe is almost $100 a year, BlackBerry is likely to draw some consumer attention by offering the service for free.
While BlackBerry Protect is a nice move for RIM, the other new software it blogged about on Monday will have a lot more to do with the company's continued success. Andrew Bocking, RIM's VP of handheld software product management, did his part to hype the new OS. "In the almost ten years I've worked at Research In Motion, I've never been as excited about a BlackBerry software launch as I am for BlackBerry 6, which is on track for release this summer."
That's not quite a solid release date, but Bocking posted a new video that highlights certain aspects of the forthcoming OS. The video shows off the redesigned homepage, the universal search feature, and new integration with social networking sites. The interface looks good and seems to run smoothly, but then you would hope it would in an animation.
The video also shows a quick peek of the NY Times site running on the new Webkit-based browser, which many long-time BlackBerry users have been clamoring for.
"The wide range of changes and added features in BlackBerry 6 will attract a lot of new users to the BlackBerry platform," writes Bocking. If RIM is to remain a powerhouse in a world where the divide between consumer and enterprise technologies is blurring, it had better.