For years Apple's iPod and iTunes Store have been the world's most popular digital media player and online music retailer combination, but if Research In Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry smartphone and Apple's number-one iPhone competitor, has its way, that may soon begin to change. On Wednesday, RIM quietly released a new piece of software that enables iTunes users to sync their DRM-free music files with their BlackBerry media players.
The introduction of BlackBerry Media Sync represents RIM's latest foray into the consumer realm, and its most recent attempt to level the playing field in that space between its BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone.
BlackBerry Media Sync is available for free download from RIM's site, and it works with PCs running Windows XP (32-bit) with service pack 2 or higher or Windows Vista (32-bit). Unfortunately, support for 64-bit operating systems and/or Mac OS is not currently available, RIM says. The software also only works with BlackBerry Pearl, Curve and 8800 series smartphones, though the company's upcoming Bold 9000 device will also likely be supported when it's released in the coming months.
Syncing music from iTunes libraries using the new BlackBerry Media Sync software is simple, though the program only transfers files in wav, mp3, aac, and m4a formats and without any digital right management (DRM) protection. The vast majority of songs purchased through the iTunes store are protected by Apple's FairPlay DRM, though some tracks are available without it for $1.29--$0.30 more than FairPlay-protected files. For iTunes files without DRM, BlackBerry Media Sync also transfers any associated album artwork. Songs imported into iTunes from any source without DRM, a store-bought CD for instance, can be synced to BlackBerrys using the new software.
BlackBerry owners have already been able to sync music from their iTunes library with their smartphones, but the process involved digging through various folders with the Roxio Media Manager that's part of RIM's BlackBerry Desktop Manager software. BlackBerry Media Sync simplifies that process and allows users to transfer specific iTunes playlists or collections of songs to their devices instead of only individual files.
Traditionally, RIM has targeted enterprise users with its wireless wares, while Apple has largely focused on the consumer sect. However, with the introduction of Apple's uber popular iPhone and RIM's BlackBerry Pearl, Curve and Bold smartphones, both companies have started to wade into each others' waters--the iPhone recently made gains in the business world with its support of Microsoft Exchange and the Pearl, Curve and Bold feature consumer-oriented features like media players, digital cameras, GPS, Wi-Fi and sleek and attractive exteriors.
Currently, RIM is the number one smartphone manufacturer in the United States based on sales, with 44.5 percent of the market in first quarter of 2008, followed by Apple (19.2 percent) and struggling handset maker Palm (13.4), according to research firm IDC (a sister company to CIO.com's publisher). It's worth noting, however, that those numbers can be deceptive, as RIM offers a much larger lineup of devices than Apple, and the iPhone 3G had not been released when IDC collected its numbers.
FREE CIO BlackBerry Newsletter
Get better use out of your BlackBerry and keep up-to-date on the latest developments. Sign-up »