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5/1/2012
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RIM Debuts NFC-Based Music Accessory

Research In Motion didn't reveal any new smartphones at BlackBerry World on Monday, but it did show off the BlackBerry Music Gateway, a trick accessory with near-field communication on board.

The Future Of RIM: Exclusive Research
The Future Of RIM: Exclusive Research
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Research In Motion may not have fielded any new smartphones at BlackBerry World 2012, but it did offer at least one, small new product: the BlackBerry Music Gateway. This revised media product has been endowed with one important bit of technology--near-field communications.

The Music Gateway is an accessory that lets BlackBerry owners share their music with a home or car stereo system. The setup is rather simple. The Gateway itself is a small puck that is placed close to a stereo system. Either RCA or 3.5-mm cables stretch from the puck to said stereo equipment. The puck itself has a Bluetooth radio inside it, and can be paired with BlackBerry smartphones or the BlackBerry PlayBook (or any compatible device, really). Those devices can then stream music wirelessly to the Music Gateway and the stereo system to which the Music Gateway is attached. Easy.

The selling point of such a device is that it allows owners to control their music from their phones and not be beholden to a media player that's physically attached to the stereo system. That user is free to walk around their house and do their thing (as long as they don't stray more than 30 feet), all while listening to music. They can multitask and use their device as a remote for selecting songs and playlists.

[ What else did RIM reveal at BlackBerry World? BlackBerry 10: RIM Doesn't Show Key Pieces. ]

What makes the new version of the Music Gateway interesting is that it has NFC on board. In order to pair and connect with a typical Bluetooth accessory, you have to turn both devices' Bluetooth radios on, set them to pairing mode, search for them, enter a code, and so on. It's an annoying process. With NFC, it is much simpler.

After the initial setup, BlackBerry owners will be able to take their smartphones and tap them against the Music Gateway. The NFC radios inside will communicate and automatically pair and connect the devices without requiring users to traipse through annoying menu screens. All Bluetooth connections should be this simple.

It's not the most groundbreaking use of NFC technology, but at least it's something. It brings an ease-of-use factor to the Music Gateway that similar devices lack. I hope that RIM brings similar functionality to its other accessories, such as Bluetooth keyboards for the PlayBook.

The more NFC is used even for simple tasks such as pairing two Bluetooth devices, the further down it will drive the cost of adding NFC chips to devices. If there's one thing NFC needs, it is ubiquity. (Of course, I'd also like to see a new mobile banking service/product from RIM that makes use of NFC for mobile payments, but apparently that's not on the table yet.)

The NFC-equipped Music Gateway ships in June for $49.99. It can be ordered directly from RIM, and will eventually make its way to RIM's retail sales channels.

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