<IT WORLD> BlackBerry too secret
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIM) has had a rough
ride during recent ventures into new markets, notably in the Middle East. The
Canadian smart-phone firm has experienced growing problems in the United Arab
Emirates, Saudi Arabia, India and Indonesia due to its encrypted messaging and
data services which can not be monitored by local authorities.
The Indian government has demanded that the company shares its encryption keys
and RIM is not keen on this for an obvious reason - it would violate its
customer protection and security guarantee.
"We are very clear that any BlackBerry service that cannot be fully intercepted
by our agencies must be discontinued. Offering
access to data is part of the telecom licensing guidelines and has to be
adhered to," Economic Times reported a government official as stating.
UAE regulators have said they plan to suspend BlackBerry e-mail, web browsing
and data services from October 11 due to similar concerns over data control. In
the United States, the administration of BlackBerry fan and user Barack Obama
criticized the move, saying that the wealthy Gulf nation is setting a dangerous
precedent by limiting the free flow of information and consequently damaging
its reputation as an emerging business hub.
UAE telephone companies Emirates Telecommunications Corp, known as Etisalat,
and Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Co, known as Du, announced plans to
offer alternative handsets from rival companies, including Samsung, Apple and
Nokia, to an estimated 500,000 BlackBerry users in the country.
Saudi Arabia followed suit this week by making similar threats to ban select
BlackBerry services to its estimated 350,000 users because it cannot monitor
the data flow. Phone companies operating in the kingdom have been ordered to
suspend BlackBerry instant messaging from August 6. They too want local servers
setup up within the country to act as filters for data leaving the device to
enable security ministries to monitor it as does Indonesia.
RIM is sticking to its guns at the moment and has stated that the BlackBerry
network has been setup so that nobody, including RIM, can access customer data
as it is encrypted as soon as it leaves the handset. The company claims that it
could not accommodate any of these requests for encryption keys to decrypt the
data as RIM itself simply doesn't have them.
Part of the appeal of the device is this extra level of security, which sets it
above its rivals as the business phone of choice. The ongoing issues have taken
the shine of the company's latest release and first touch-screen phone this
week, the BlackBerry Torch, which enters the market in competition with a
multitude of Android devices and Apple's iconic iPhone.
In a world of ever-expanding Internet and software monopolies, it didn't take
long for Microsoft's Windows 7 to be running on more computers than its
maligned predecessor, Vista. Industry analyst Net Applications reports that
Windows 7 accounts for 14.5% of all operating systems, passing Vista, which now
stands at 14.3%. Way out in front though is the die-hard XP platform, which has
a 61.9% market share. Apple is far behind in this race, with its OS X only
accounting for 5%.
Microsoft's claim that Windows 7 is the fastest-selling operating system to
date may hold true, as 175 million licenses have already been sold and the
platform is now packaged with almost all new PCs.
The latest browser reports are also favorable for the software giant as
Internet Explorer, which has shown a steady decline in popularity for a number
of years, has clawed back some popularity, with a 60.74% share of the market in
Firefox lost out and ended the month with a 22.91% share, down from a high of
almost 25% a few months ago. This could be related to a number of memory leak
problems, with the latest version forcing users to switch browsers to prevent
their computers running out of memory and grinding to a halt. Google's Chrome
lost a tenth of a percentage point for a 7.16% share and Apple's Safari was up
a little at 5.09%, primarily due to new iPad owners using the browser.
Google's Android platform is enjoying huge jumps in popularity and strong
market momentum as its second-quarter figures claim that handset shipments
increased by an astounding 886% with a current estimated 200,000 daily Android
Bolstered by a number of high profile product releases from Samsung, HTC, LG,
Motorola and Sony Ericsson, the relative newcomer in the mobile phone industry
has taken the market by storm.
While Apple's iPhone is still in the tech news limelight for all the right and
some wrong reasons, it is essentially limited to one handset and one carrier in
any one market. Android is likely to supersede it by the end of the year
because it is available on different devices, and is usable with different
carriers, at different prices. Freedom of choice seems to be the winning
formula in this battle.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.