Growth industry: BlackBerry the newest gizmo du jour

Device offers e-mail, cell phone, Internet and full keyboard � and it all fits in the palm of your hand

   Sgt. Ryan King of the Blaine Police Department scans through a miniature handheld computer. His thumbs dance across the “qwerty” keyboard, hitting shortcut keys while his index finger brushes the side scroll key. The device is slightly larger than a cell phone, and has a two-and-a-half-inch color screen.
   “We use it daily: 24-seven,” King said.
   Bellingham business owners may soon see the speed of business increase with the latest handheld technology. BlackBerry, a product of Research in Motion Limited, allows users to access e-mail and company documents, browse the Internet and use an electronic organizer within a pocket-sized device. It also functions with a built-in cell phone.
   “It’s going to be like your little laptop,” Freedom Wireless Owner Pierre Thomas said.
   Cell phones already provide basic wireless services — such as e-mail and Internet access — but not with an easy-to-use format, Thomas said.
   “BlackBerry is going to give you more of the view of the laptop,” Thomas said. “You really can’t do the same thing with a cell phone.”
   These devices are altering office work by taking the office out of the picture. The fusion of services allows the user to place orders, speak with clients and access important company documents while away from the office. The latest models can wirelessly sync contact lists and information between a desktop and the device, Lowell said, but are not compatible with Macintosh.
   “You can’t escape from the office unless you’re on vacation and you turn it off,” King said.
   The Blaine Police Department started using BlackBerries approximately three years ago, King said. Now, the department has 13 devices in use plus spares, he said.
   “If I’m at a meeting and a situation arises, I can converse directly with that officer via e-mail,” King said.
   With a special application called Voyager, officers can run driver checks, gun checks and warrants on vehicles from the BlackBerry device, King said. This is particularly useful to officers on motorcycles or on foot who cannot carry laptops, he said. The application contains security features mandated by the state. All emails sent through department BlackBerries run through the department server, which has firewall protection. Through the secure system, officers can access nearly all the information they need except for criminal history, he said.
   “The officers can remain out in the field,” King said. “They don’t have to come into the office all the time.”
   King said the devices have helped save time and money by eliminating unnecessary trips to and from the office.
   “Just look at the price of gas,” King said.
   Since its first release nearly a year ago, BlackBerry has grown popular with salespeople, construction workers, government agencies, first responders and police forces, among other fields, Nextel spokeswoman Mary Beth Lowell said. Its professional use is on the rise in Whatcom County, according to local distributors, and is expected to continue growing.
   “When it (the new model) first came out last year I had one and I was selling one or two a month,” said Joel Rinehart, the manager of Communication 2000 in Ferndale. “This month I’ve sold five and I’m going on six.”
   They are available in a variety of models, ranging from $200 to $500, though many providers offer rebates, Rinehart said. They are slightly larger than cell phones, and connect to a network just as a cell phone does; users subscribe to a service provider for a monthly fee. Different rate plans provide different combinations of cell- phone minutes and Internet access.
   “Most salespeople today have cell phones,” Thomas said. “You’re paying $20 to $30 extra with the BlackBerry.”
   Special applications are available as well, Lowell said. These include GPS with navigation tools, real-estate databases and the Voyager application for police officers. The navigation tools provide real-time audio driving directions.
   “You can set up your BlackBerry on your dashboard and it will give you turn-by-turn directions for your route,” Lowell said.
   A technology called Bluetooth can also be added to a BlackBerry. It comes with a small, wireless earpiece and microphone that attaches to the ear so that users can converse hands free, Lowell said.
   “There are a lot of people who travel who don’t carry laptops anymore,” Lowell said.
Businesspeople who travel or spend time outside the office can use BlackBerry to connect to e-mail in an airport or plan their week in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, Lowell said.
   “I see laptops going away,” Thomas said. “They’re not practical for a lot of purposes.”
   BlackBerries are still less advanced than laptops, Rinehart said. They don’t have as much storage, they don’t have as many applications and they have a smaller keyboard. But the idea of a BlackBerry being the new laptop raises a common problem with technology: obsolescence. As business owners weigh the cost and benefits of new technology, how long a product will last becomes important.
   “It’s like a cell phone,” King said. “You buy one and three days later there is a new model.”
   Other devices might serve as competition for BlackBerries, though they don’t carry the exact same services, Rinehart said. Such devices include the Palm Treo and the pocket PC.
   The Blaine Police Department first invested in the BlackBerry 7510 model three years ago, King said. They upgrade to the 7510 because of the special police applications it can support, he said.
   “The general specifications of the device are usually adequate for most businesses or the public,” King said.
   The BlackBerry devices have most if not all the applications that people are looking for, Lowell said. Technology will continue to improve, she said, but people won’t need to upgrade if they don’t want to.
   “To be honest, most people — if they get something and they like it they are going to want the newest model,” Rinehart said. “But if you don’t want to get it, you don’t have to.”

BlackBerry’s boost in access, productivity the bottom line for Ryzex staffers

Ryzen President Lorne Rubis has purchased BlackBerries for his entire executive staff, allowing them to stay in touch and able to respond to almost any question a client might have.

   Ryzex President Lorne Rubis was waiting in line for his coffee at about 7:30 a.m. on a workday, he said. He received a call from a salesperson in Everett. She forwarded him information about a customer, which he then sent directly to a president in Phoenix and an executive in the United Kingdom.
   “I did that standing there, literally waiting for my Americano,” Rubis said.
   Rubis supplies BlackBerry for the 15 members of his executive staff, and would eventually like to supply them for all his employees, he said.
   “I’m expecting us to be totally responsive, both proactively and reactively,” Rubis said.
   Rubis spoke with a warm smile. He pulled his BlackBerry out of his pocket and began to scroll through his contact list.
   “I’ve got about 3,000 contacts in there,” he said.
   Ryzex, a Bellingham-based barcode equipment company, provides products and repair services for clients throughout the world. Its philosophy is to get the most out of technology by buying and refurbishing equipment, Rubis said. This allows the equipment to function even longer before being recycled, he said.
   “We are in the business of allowing organizations to use their technological assets in a way that is most efficient to them,” Rubis said.
   Rubis has been using handheld technology since the late 1990s when Motorola introduced a text device, he said. He has used Palm Treo and earlier versions of BlackBerry. He said the technology gives him greater access, productivity and control. Although Rubis has upgraded his BlackBerry, he said that upgrading technology all the time isn’t always necessary.
   “Just because the technology is there doesn’t mean you’re going to migrate to a new model,” Rubis said.
   He said that roughly 16 percent of the cost of upgrading to a new technology actually goes toward purchasing the hardware. More money goes toward training and support. He said each company needs to look at its own needs and priorities to determine what technology is most appropriate.
   “If there is a business reason, it makes sense (to upgrade),” Rubis said.
   Rubis said the ability to send text or e-mail from his BlackBerry allows him to send information quickly and efficiently. If he is traveling, he can take care of business while he is waiting for his luggage.
   “Some people feel like it has a negative impact on your personal life,” Rubis said. “I feel exactly the opposite. My work environment is with me all the time. We’ve got to be a little bit more accepting of less formality.”
   Rubis discretely slipped his BlackBerry out of his pocket, glanced at the screen, pushed a button and slid it back into hiding.
   “It forces you to be brief,” Rubis said. “You’ve got to get to the point.”
   In an age when people demand instant information, the BlackBerry devices allow people to communicate more efficiently and more precisely, Rubis said. For instance, Rubis can send e-mails out to his entire company early in the morning, whether he is at home, waiting in line for coffee or walking upstairs to his office.
   “If you’ve got anything that’s a device that allows you to stay more in touch with people, well that’s a good thing,” Rubis said.
   Rubis said the devices makes it easier for people to do better whatever it is they do best. If someone is a good executive, BlackBerry will make that person better at it. But if someone is a bad executive, BlackBerry will help that person be a bad executive, he said.
   “Having a BlackBerry makes you more efficient, but it does not substitute for the need of one-on-one,” Rubis said. “It’s just a supplemental device. It’s not the core of anything. It accelerates what you do.”


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