BlackBerry users without an IT department behind them can now locate, back up and remotely wipe their handsets for free, as RIM bulks out its consumer offering.
The free BlackBerry Protect service is now in open beta, providing a host of functionality previously restricted to enterprise users but now available direct from RIM as the company tries to paint itself as a serious competitor to Apple in the consumer market.
RIM is often considered a business brand, based on its application platform and history of innovation in pushed email (for a long time the killer app for enterprise users), but the company has made no secret of its aspirations as a consumer brand, and has been making progress with the texting yoof to whom a thumb-friendly keyboard is a significant inducement.
Enterprise users working for companies running their own BlackBerry Enterprise Server get loads of security functionality, but consumers relying on RIMs servers have had to do without until now. BlackBerry Protect will fit well with RIM's forthcoming tablet, the PlayBook; it's an obvious attempt to replicate much of what MobileMe offers iPhone, and iPad, users.
That includes consumer-friendly functions such as only backing up when Wi-Fi is available, and triggering a loud ring for when one's handset is under the sofa. Should the handset be further afield then one can trigger the GPS for a mapped display. If it turns out to be really lost then one can lock the handset, while displaying return information on the screen, and remotely wipe the data if that doesn't work.
The application has been in closed beta since December, but can now be downloaded from the BlackBerry App World (just search for "BlackBerry Protect").
The service is free, for the moment; RIM wouldn't be drawn on whether it will stay that way but that probably depends on what Apple decides to do. ®