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Wednesday, September 08, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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T-Mobile to sell BlackBerry PDA that's cellphone

Special to The Seattle Times

The 7100t is considered a "phone-first" BlackBerry.
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In 1999, Qualcomm was one of the first to combine a cellphone with a personal digital assistant. The Qualcomm pdQ was big, awkward to use and cost as much as $800. It flopped.

Over the past five years, many cellphone makers have tried to improve on the converged device. T-Mobile USA thinks Research in Motion (RIM) has finally got it right.

The Bellevue subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom plans to announce today a new cellphone that includes RIM's BlackBerry personal digital assistant will be available exclusively in the United States from T-Mobile.

"What we're offering here is what we think is a converged device with no compromises," said Scott Ballantyne, vice president of marketing at T-Mobile USA.

The phone is expected to be available the first week of October.

RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, already sells BlackBerry devices that can make voice calls and include wireless access to e-mail. Those devices look like a traditional BlackBerry PDA and, while they can be held to the ear for phone calls, they don't offer the comfort standard cellphones do.

The new 7100t is considered a "phone-first BlackBerry," meaning it looks like a traditional cellphone but it includes PDA functions, such as e-mail access and calendar features, said Ballantyne.

Ballantyne hopes the phone, priced at $199, will appeal to consumers rather than business users, which make up the traditional market for converged devices.

RIM hopes the phone will broaden BlackBerry's audience into what it calls the "prosumer" audience, said Mark Guibert, vice president of corporate marketing. He defines a prosumer as someone who personally buys the device but uses it at least in part for business.

While $199 may compare favorably with so-called smart cellphones, it may not be low enough for the mass market, said Neil Strother, a Kirkland-based senior analyst with research company In-Stat/MDR.

Strother expects that in 12 to 18 months such phones, which combine voice and PDA functions, will become more popular as lower price, smaller size, better battery life and more ubiquitous wireless data networks fall into place.
In a recent survey, In-Stat/MDR found that 9 percent of cellphone users had smart phones.

The 7100t will have a unique keypad that includes a standard pad flanked by two columns. The keypad will operate like a full QWERTY keyboard, with two letters assigned to each key.

RIM developed a technology called SureType that does not require users to tap a key twice to get to the second letter. Instead, users spell out a word; the phone, using special algorithms, guesses the word being spelled and displays it on the screen.

The 7100t will also include a browser that displays Web sites to fit the screen.

Some handheld devices display only sites specially formatted to fit. Others display all sites but require users to scroll left, right, up and down to see all the content.

The phone will be available exclusively through T-Mobile stores or the T-Mobile Web site. Users can opt for a wireless access plan that costs $59.99 per month and includes 1,000 minutes, plus unlimited data.

T-Mobile recently was the first to introduce a Hewlett-Packard device that incorporates Wi-Fi and cellular capabilities. It also was the first to sell the Sidekick, a consumer-focused e-mail and voice device.

Such agreements, which have exclusivity provisions, may help T-Mobile appeal to a certain customer base.

"It keeps them at the bleeding edge of devices and helps them attract younger, hipper, cutting edge customers," In-Stat/MDR's Strother said.

Nancy Gohring, a Seattle freelancer, writes frequently about telecommunications and wireless developments.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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