New BlackBerry OS 7.1 hits Australia


news Troubled Canadian device manufacturer Research in Motion has made the new version of its operating system available to Australian customers, with the new platform being approved already for Government use and telcos Optus and Vodafone making it available to customers.

BlackkBerry OS 7.1 adds a number of new features to BlackBerry handsets such as the Bold 9900, the Torch 9860 and 9810 and the Curve 9360, such as BlackBerry Tag, which lets BlackBerry users with Near-Field Communications chips embedded in their smartphones tap their handsets against each other to share information, or pair their device with a Bluetooth device enabled for NFC. NFC is gradually being used across Australia to make small transactions with smartphones and other enabled devices.

The update will also let Australian customers turn their BlackBerry into a mobile hotspot that can be shared by up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices, including, for example, laptops and tablets. This feature has been available to smartphone users with Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS platform for some time. It is commonly used to share a smartphone’s Internet connection to a laptop or tablet, meaning users don’t need to pay for an extra 3G mobile broadband connection for those devices.

Other new features include additions to the Universal Search capability found on BlackBerrys, as well as the ability to use the Curve 9360’s built-in FM radio. “The FM radio circuitry is already built in to the Curve 9360 model and BlackBerry 7.1 provides users with a new app that allows them to tune in and enjoy local FM radio stations,” said a statement from Research in Motion this morning. “Listening to the FM radio does not require a data plan or count as data usage.”

Customers who want to upgrade their handsets to OS 7.1 are able to do so by connecting their smartphone to their PC through a USB connection and updating the software manually. “BlackBerry 7.1 is now available from Vodafone and Optus,” RIM said this morning. “Devices powered by BlackBerry 7 OS – the BlackBerry Bold™ 9900, Torch 9860 & 9810 and Curve 9360 – are compatible for the upgrade.” Telstra has not clarified whether it will allow the update.

RIM also announced this morning that the Defence Signals Directorate, which certifies technology for government use, had already certified OS 7.1 for use by Australian Government agencies. “The certification from the DSD affirms that the BlackBerry 7 Operating System meets the Australian and New Zealand Government’s strict security standards for a wide range of the Governments’ information classifications, representing the majority of day-to-day operational communications,” said RIM.

“BlackBerry 7.0 and 7.1 Operating Systems, when used in accordance with Government guidance, can be used to secure information with a classification of up to and including PROTECTED for the Australian Government and up to and including RESTRICTED for the New Zealand Government.”

DSD also recently approved devices running version 5 of Apple’s iOS platform (including iPads and iPhones) for classified government communications, after a lengthy evaluation period and the production of a detailed security ‘hardening’ guide for the popular mobile products.

However, despite the fact that Google’s Android platform is rapidly outstripping RIM’s BlackBerry OS as the second major mobile platform of choice (along with Apple’s iOS) in Australia, last year DSD clarified it hadn’t yet started evaluating Android for use within the public sector just yet — seeing no immediate need.

The news also comes as RIM has recently been showcasing version 10 of its BlackBerry OS platform, which is expected to feature a radically overhauled user interface compared to previous versions.

It’s fascinating to see how streamlined the process of updating RIM’s BlackBerry software is in Australia, compared with Google’s Android. The company just issues one media release, on one day, with most of the major mobile carriers and the Government’s peak IT security agency already on board. Bingo! You get a new BlackBerry operating system.

In comparison, the situation with Android is so ridiculously convoluted that Vodafone has actually set up a whole page so that users can see what version of Android they can get on what device. And rumours persist of carriers such as Telstra being so frustrated with the Android updating process for their customers that they are considering dumping the platform altogether (although I don’t really believe this would actually happen).

Apple’s iOS platform, of course, is a dream to update. I updated my iPhone 4 to a new point release last night – all it took was hitting ‘yes’ on a prompt or two on the device itself, and Bob’s your uncle.

This release also makes me consider what the future of Australian enterprise mobile communications would look like, particularly in the public sector, if RIM’s financial and market share problems finally hit home and the company was sold or broken up somehow. The amount of BlackBerrys in use in Australia’s public sector, in particular, must be huge by now; at least in the hundreds of thousands.

It would be fascinating to see how departments and agencies around the nation would deal with a dying RIM; would DSD face increasing pressure to certify Android? Would Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform get a strong boost from public sector use? Or would Apple’s iPhone (already certified, after all), simply be moved in en-masse to replace the BlackBerry? It would be fascinating to find out, although I’m sure it’s a fate RIM would much rather avoid ;)

Image credit: Research in Motion


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