Blackberry and WiFi support lack of attention or conflict of interests?
I have decided to write this short post to bring up to your attention the problem with Wi-Fi network support on Blackberry. RIM has made an excellent move adding Wi-Fi support to their devices. I love Blackberries, they were always my favorite devices to work with, and they are decent phones too. Lets not start about iPhone, no offense ;) However, it is really surprising how few applications can actually use it, and this is not due to technical limitations.
First of all, why I am so interested in using Wi-Fi. I have a Blackberry without data plan and it was my decision not to buy one. I believe that the prices for mobile data access in Canada are just insane. I am talking about the real mobile data access, not unlimited browsing. At the end, what is the point in using Blackberry browser if you have the applications like Opera Mini? And you probably want to use GoogleTalk and some other applications that do not use HTTP via WAP Gateway. In addition to that, I have a mobile network around me most of the time and when I do not - I can live without the mobile data. And Wi-Fi access costs nothing. And I assure you - there are virtually no network applications that could not work over Wi-Fi (I saw the statements from some customer support "specialists" that "GoogleMail absolutely requires mobile data plan"!).
Unfortunately, Research In Motion has introduced the support for Wi-Fi as "side" components. Unlike for the regular data network access, it is not very well integrated with the applications using the configuration "by default" Here is what is takes to use Wi-Fi in any Blackberry application: you just need to add "interface=wifi" to the URL the application is trying to access. That's all. The device will use Wi-Fi network connection in order to access this URL. The same applies to TCP connections. Simple? Very simple.
However, for unknown reason RIM has not made one little thing that would change everything: a setting (per application or a global one) that would use Wi-Fi for all connections that do not have "interface=wifi" parameter. As result, any existing application that currently relies on the mobile data network has to be modified and rebuilt, although the modification is extremely simple.
Why was it done this way? Someone did not think about how convenient is to use Wi-Fi for any network connection by default when it it available? Or because RIM makes money on selling the phones to the operators and the operators make money on (over)charging the customers for the mobile data access? I hope that it was the first reason but I am afraid the second is more realistic.
Me and some of my friends have already tried to contact a couple of companies that provide free Blackberry applications for accessing their services (Google, MeteoMedia, Yahoo…) and explain the problem. Surprisingly, there were no responses at all.
I have started looking for a way to modify the binaries of the existing applications in order to force them to use Wi-Fi network connections. The biggest challenge is the proprietary binary data format used by RIM. However, for some applications it is relatively easy and I enjoy using GoogleMail and GoogleMaps on my 8120 purely over Wi-Fi. I will publish an article on how to achieve it as soon as I can.
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