The company will also provide consulting services to manufacturers on building devices based around the reference design. Analog Devices will provide the manufacturers with an integrated processor that supports BlackBerry wireless communications and Java applications.
RIM did not provide details of the cost of the reference design or say who might buy it, prompting some analysts to dismiss the value of the move.
"With all the competition in this space and little profit [to be made], who is going to pay for it?" asked Phillip Redman, an analyst at Gartner. "I see this as a nonstarter."
Analyst Tim Scannell at Shoreline Research said RIM is making the move because it does not have the corporate structure or size to compete well in the wireless handheld market alone. BlackBerry has won success for its "always-on" wireless and secure e-mail functionality, especially among Wall Street financial workers and some doctors who need quick access to information repeatedly during the day, he said.
Making this always-on functionality available as a part of other devices by other manufacturers will bring BlackBerry into the next generation of handheld devices that integrate wireless phones and data, Scannell said.
Government officials also use BlackBerry because it encrypts e-mail in both directions, another feature that might be important to device manufacturers that buy the reference design, Scannell said.
But the BlackBerry has a poor Personal Information Manager function and could benefit from integration with other applications, Scannell added. "BlackBerry and others face an uphill battle against Microsoft," which recently announced manufacturers and four major US wireless carriers that this summer will roll out a smart phone, updated Pocket PCs and Pocket PC phone edition devices.
Microsoft announcements at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association conference in Orlando on 18 March might have prompted RIM to "talk about the release of their reference design prematurely just to keep the buzz level up," Scannell said.
There are more than 1 million RIM-manufactured wireless handhelds on the market, and more than 259,000 of those are running use the BlackBerry design, a RIM spokesman said.