Oh boy. Thought’s really looking to stir it up in his latest editorial. While many AT&T users are chomping at the bit to get their hands on the BlackBerry 8820 (Orange users, you can offer a smug smile right about now), our man Thought dares to ask the question: do we even need a Wi-Fi BlackBerry? This one is sure to create a lot of debate, so make sure to post a comment and let us know what you think.
With the upcoming release of the new 8820 model we finally will have Wi-Fi on a BlackBerry. I have to admit that I am excited about this and look forward to seeing all of the developments as RIM is rumored to be ready to feature Wi-Fi on more of its upcoming BlackBerry models.
However, I also ask myself if such a feature is really that useful on a BlackBerry. For sending and receiving emails, the bread and butter of the BlackBerry, it is not needed. According to Vodafone, the average email in English with 250 words is approximately 4KB in size. Do we need to download 4KB emails or 40KB emails or even 400KB emails on a connection that can support up to 54 Mbps?
The web browser on a BlackBerry is suited more for the mobile versions of web sites which emphasize text content. It’s not as if one can go to a media-rich site with Flash or QuickTime on your mobile browser and enjoy those features, no matter what the connection speed.
To its credit, the BlackBerry is a device optimized for smaller bandwidth and thus in many cases a user doesn’t need the broadband pipeline offered by Wi-Fi.
One of the most intriguing applications of Wi-Fi is the prospect of using the internet for voice phone calls and thus avoiding the traditional airtime and long distance charges. Such applications for the BlackBerry are just being rolled out, but I wonder, though, if most users will really want to bother with the setup for that type of software and service. The one promising integration of this feature looks to be UMA, and is only offered right now in the US by T-Mobile. Ironically, this first Wi-Fi BlackBerry is being introduced by AT&T. Go figure.
Then there is the issue of 3G. Once RIM comes out with 3G BlackBerrys, will anyone care about Wi-Fi? 3G is more ubiquitous than Wi-Fi in many areas; you don’t have to hunt down a hotspot and many of those require an additional fee to use. 3G is not as fast as Wi-Fi, but is certainly more than adequate for what the BlackBerry does.
Finally, there is the security issue. Hopping onto many public Wi-Fi networks poses something of a security risk, and many BlackBerry users will not want to take that risk. Of course corporations can always set up their own secure internal Wi-Fi network and that may have utility for some. I have to believe, though, that most BlackBerry users are too mobile to take advantage of Wi-Fi networks at their corporate office.
Admittedly, there is potential: with the Wi-Fi feature implemented, developers may come up with some dynamic applications that utilize the power of a Wi-Fi connection on a BlackBerry.
With technology, features usually fall into one of two categories. There are those features that are genuinely useful to a majority of users. Then there are those features that look good on paper, seem like they would be neat to have, but end up not being that useful after all. I wonder if Wi-Fi on a BlackBerry will end up being in the first or the second category. Perhaps you, our thoughtful readers, can weigh in and tell us for what purpose would you use Wi-Fi on your BlackBerry.