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When the BlackBerry® handheld communications device hit the streets in 1999, it spawned its very own user sub-group - true devotees soon became known among cynics as "crackberries". But behind the smirks lies genuine respect for this remarkable family of multifunctional PDAs.
The devices are manufactured by the Canadian company Research in Motion (RIM) and resold throughout the world. They fit in the palm of the hand and are operated using a trackwheel and buttons. It offers the usual PDA applications - address book, calendar, to-do lists and the like - plus telephone capabilities all but the oldest models. But the BlackBerry is particularly distinctive for its ability to send and receive emails anywhere where it can access an appropriate wireless network and for its built-in keyboard, optimised for "thumbing" (using only the thumbs to type).
The trackwheel/thumbwheel controls system navigation. This is a scrolling wheel with a "click" function, located on the right side of the device. Some models (such as 7510 and 7520) also incorporate a two-way radio.
Modern BlackBerry handhelds incorporate an ARM 7 or 9 processor, while older BlackBerry 950 and 957 handhelds have Intel 80386 processors (antique by PC standards, this chip is still more powerful than the computers that took man to the moon in 1969). RIM recently announced that new devices will run on the Intel Xscale PXA9xx cellular processor (code-named Hermon).
RIM's wireless platform, software development tools and BlackBerry devices quickly became popular among thousands of organisations around the world, attracted primarily by its wireless, "communications on the move" capabilities. BlackBerry devices now support multiple wireless network standards, for seamless access to time-sensitive information including email, phone, text messaging (SMS and MMS), Internet and intranet-based applications. Its success soon attracted a broad array of third-party developers and manufacturers, quick to enhance their products and services with wireless connectivity to data via the BlackBerry.
RIM itself has been involved in protracted law-suits and counter-suits over patent infringements since 2002, including a $600 million-plus settlement against it, but the ingenuity, effectiveness and continued popularity of the BlackBerry product range among the roaming business community continues unabated.