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RIM Ups Ante With Mobile Software Push

There just couldn't be a better time to be a mobile application developer now that device makers are clamouring for talent and opening deep pockets in the quest for that next big killer app.

The latest is Research in Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) which launched the BlackBerry Partners Fund this week along with Thomson Reuters (NYSE: TRI). The $150 million VC money pool, co-managed by JLA Ventures and RBC Venture Partners, will invest in mobile applications and services for the BlackBerry platform and other mobile environments.

The fact that RIM wants to foster application development isn't new. What is new is RIM going beyond its own platform.

Vendors have been fostering proprietary development for years given the lack of a standard mobile platform. Last week Motorola (NYSE:MOT) pushed out a robust toolset for its MOTODEV Studio platform. Earlier this year, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers launched a $100 million dollar "iFund", with Apple's support, to spur iPhone application innovation.

"RIM and Apple are going tit for tat, and obviously competing for the hearts and minds of developers," Carmi Levy, senior VP, strategic consulting, AR Communications, told InternetNews.com. He called the RIM Fund "the first salvo" in what promises to be an interesting battle between RIM and Apple.

Applications created through the Fund will have to run first on the BlackBerry platform but developers can then also develop versions for other platforms as well.

Described in a press release as "agnostic to both stage and balance sheet," the Fund will not restrict development to any single mobile platform or any specific industry segment.

"It's the opposite to being restrictive," Kevin Talbot, RBC VP and managing director of RBC Venture Partners, told InternetNews.com.

In search of a handful of hits

The VC companies hope to cull four to five innovative, hit products, from an expected 500 to 600 pitched ideas, a year over the next four years, said Talbot, co-managing partner of the Fund along with John Albright, managing partner of JLA Ventures.

"What we look for are the best people, the most clever technology and a market that can generate significant revenue," said Talbot. "The reality is that hardware has finally caught up to the power of the desktop. Now it's about what else can be done on these devices," he added.

As Levy explained, it won't be sleek designs or fancy touch screens when it comes to future mobile device use.

"The device that runs the best, most gee-whiz and attention-grabbing applications stands to gain competitive advantage in both the consumer and enterprise marketplace," he said.

While it's still early to predict who'll win the battle for developer talent, it's pretty clear who's going to lose -- those device makers who don't start rolling out a red carpet and courting application wizards.

"Software is the lifeblood of any platform. If you don't build it for the developers, they will not come. And if the developers don't come, no one else will, either," said Levy.