Windows For BlackBerry

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion  (RIM) today
announced that it plans to let users of non-BlackBerry smartphones download
its software.

The wireless hardware and software vendor said that, as a first step, it
will begin offering the new software application for devices running Windows
Mobile 6. In the future, the company plans to offer the same capability to
users of other mobile operating systems, such as Symbian and Palm, according
to David Heit, director of product management at RIM.

The new BlackBerry application suite will complement existing Windows Mobile
6 functionality and will appear as an icon on the screen, in the same manner
as other third-party applications. Clicking the icon will prompt a suite of
BlackBerry applications, including push e-mail functionality, calendar,
address book and others, to load. The device will also feature the user
interface of a BlackBerry smartphone.

Devices running the BlackBerry application suite will connect to BlackBerry
services via BlackBerry Enterprise Server and BlackBerry Internet
Service.

This will be the first time the company has opened its proprietary software
to third-party developers, although it has licensed its protocols to rival
device manufacturers through BlackBerry Connect, introduced in 2003.

“Rather than providing the protocols, we’re providing the entire application
stack,” Heit told internetnews.com. This decision gives the company access to a greater pool of potential customers, he added.

“More and more segments of the marketplace are interested in BlackBerry
content delivery, management administration and security. This extends that
reach more completely,” he said.

According to Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala, the timing of RIM’s
announcement is good. When a particular technology is first making its
bones, vertical integration helps ensure devices function properly. But
as a market matures and technological issues are resolved, openness and
choice become greater virtues.

So while it made sense for RIM to remain vertically integrated while
smartphone technology was young, the market has matured to a point where it
now makes more sense for the company to open up to a greater range of
devices, said Kerravala.

“Historically, the vendors that have provided choice are the ones who have
gone on to win, regardless of the market they were in,” he told
internetnews.com.

But given the number of issues yet to be resolved with the new software — availability, pricing and delivery mechanisms are yet to be announced — there may well be another reason for the timing of the announcement.

The company suffered a well-publicized outage last week, stemming from “the introduction of a new, non-critical system routine that was designed to provide better optimization of the system’s cache,” it said in a statement. Creating buzz around a new application would be one way to distract attention from that news.

Ironically, the system’s weakness is also one of its principal advantages,
noted IDC analyst Chris Hazelton.

The key differentiator for RIM in the smartphone market is its push e-mail
technology, which it achieves by operating two network operation centers
(NOCs) that aggregate service from all the national carriers. This saves
corporate IT from having to deal with different carriers individually, noted
Hazelton.

But RIM’s reliance on those NOCs makes it vulnerable to the kind of outage
BlackBerry users suffered last week. Nevertheless, Hazelton said the
benefits still outweigh the risks. “What happened last week was tough for
RIM, but [the NOCs] are an advantage for them,” he said.

Hazelton added that companies often learn more quickly as a result of
mistakes than if everything goes swimmingly.

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