Over a decade ago, before becoming a mainstream phenomenon and about when "smartphone" first started to become a word, the BlackBerry was a novel device for those of us who were out of the office a lot but wanted to make it seem that we were at our desks (or in my case, while doing other things for fun, like playing basketball in northern New Jersey, or sailing while pretending to be at work).
But since the advent of the Android, the iPhone, and other smartphones that compete head-to-head with Research in Motion's now-fabled device, the Canada-based handset giant has been struggling to maintain market share and has been at odds to offer something completely new and must-have again.
Looking to offer some interesting features to its pre-loaded BlackBerry applications, RIM earlier this week said it has purchased Gist, a startup that offers software that aggregates e-mail contacts while helping you keep tabs on what they are doing. The purchase won't trigger a mad rush to buy next-generation BlackBerries or new tablets if the app comes preloaded, yet Gist might offer a promise of new types of applications RIM could offer in the future.
RIM did not communicate many details about the terms of its purchase of Gist. Without saying when Gist's app might be preinstalled on Blackberries, RIM posted this on its blog earlier this week:
"Today we are pleased to announce that Gist has joined Research In Motion (RIM). We're excited that the Gist team is joining RIM and bringing their expertise in providing customers with a contextualized, streamlined, and consolidated view of information about their contacts to the BlackBerry platform."
If you are mulling trashing your Blackberry for the latest iPhone, Android, or another smartphone but are curious about what Gist could offer, it's possible to try it for free with your Gmail account.
Among other things, Gist allows you to access information about your contacts as you enter their e-mail address. In a side window next to your e-mail list, a window offers a profile of each contact you specify, which includes information such as their importance on a scale of one to 100, a notes tab in which you make comments about the contact, and access to their latest Tweets. It's also possible to access a list of past Gmail and Facebook messages the contact has sent you, and a picture of the contact pops up if one is available.
At the very least, Gist can help you figure out whether you are e-mailing the right contact, or if you've forgotten who one of your contacts is. This is a useful Gmail feature. Maybe one day it could help prevent you from having to fumble around with the Blackberry's not-so-great folder search function. I wouldn't describe what Gist offers as a killer app by any means, but hopefully, Gist will be among many new and interesting apps to come pre-installed on next-generation Blackberries in the near future.
Bruce covers tech trends in the United States and Europe and tweets at @brucegain.