RIM Promotes P2P Applications for its NFC-enabled BlackBerrys

Research in Motion is promoting peer-to-peer applications in its NFC phones, announcing today a BlackBerry Tag feature that will be included in an update to its BlackBerry 7 operating system.

The update announced today will enable users to tap NFC-enabled BlackBerrys together to share contact information, documents, URLs, photos and other content. And users will be able to tap their phones to add one another as contacts for RIM’s instant messaging service, BlackBerry Messenger.

The BlackBerry Tag feature will be available on RIM’s first NFC phones, the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9930 and BlackBerry Curve 9350, 9360 and 9370, which have been released. These phones have an NFC chip inside but would need the update to the operating system to enable the special P2P feature.

RIM also said it plans to make application-programming interfaces available for app developers to use to “take advantage of ‘tap to share’ functionality from within their own applications.”

“BlackBerry Tag opens a new dimension to the BlackBerry platform that is powerful, simple and intuitive, and we think it will be welcomed by both users and developers,” said RIM’s co-CEO Jim Balsillie in a statement. Balsillie earlier today announced the P2P feature during a keynote speech at the Gitex conference in Dubai.

The announcement seems to make clear that the P2P exchanges of documents, URLs and photos, among other content using BlackBerry Tag, is only intended for BlackBerry users, not users of NFC phones supporting Android, Symbian or other platforms, at least not at first.

The BlackBerry NFC handsets have standard NFC chips, so it’s unclear whether developers would be able to adapt NFC phones using other operating systems to communicate in P2P mode with the BlackBerrys.

The NFC Forum only recently published a new standard NFC data exchange format for P2P communication, which will make it easier for developers to design P2P applications that work across platforms. But developers are able to bridge the gap now and enable NFC phones sporting different operating systems to talk to one another. Of course, if RIM built extra proprietary security into its BlackBerry Tag P2P software, developers wouldn't be able to construct cross-platform P2P apps. A RIM spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

It's also not clear whether RIM is talking about device pairing when it says BlackBerry Tag can enable users to transfer photos in P2P mode. Transmitting photos of any size would be time-consuming if sent strictly over the NFC interface. But using P2P mode, two NFC devices also could quickly open a Bluetooth or WiFi connection, which have much broader bandwidth than NFC.

RIM also has embedded secure chips in its NFC phones. In addition, the same phones are believed to support the single-wire protocol, enabling secure applications to be stored on SIM cards. RIM has not yet stated its plans for the embedded chips, but among them is likely to be enabling enterprises to store their corporate badges and other access-control and ID applications on the chips.

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