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Monday, 9 May 2011

BlackBerry World - Just “Bing” Me

We’ve all heard phrase “PING me” on BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), but RIM, the manufacturer of BlackBerry devices added a new phrase into our BBM vocabulary and that is just “BING me."
Could this be the new BlackBerry catch-phrase?

With the announcement made at BlackBerry World that Microsoft would be collaborating with RIM going forward, means that apart from having Bing as the default search engine in all BlackBerry devices, Microsoft would be working with RIM at the core operating system level.  Bing is not only a search engine as Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, said at BlackBerry World but is a tool that helps integrate everything we do today.  As Ballmer and others in the search engine business have been quite clear in saying, search engines do much more than answer questions.  They're being designed as instant answer tools whether it's asked given an input or not.  Inputs if they exist, could be in the form of showing the search engine a picture, QR code, barcode, locational data or a voice input.  Instant answers could be in the form of questions to queries you have as we know search engines to function today, but also to provide tips, advice, news, bargains and other relevant information based on how we're using our devices (for those of you who though Apple's locationgate was bad, this is only the tip of the iceberg)
What does this mean for the mobile industry in general and what does this sound like?  For starters, a lot of what Microsoft and RIM said last week is similar to something I heard a few weeks ago from a senior Google executive who was talking about Google’s mobile strategy.  This is probably why I wasn't as excited when I first heard about Microsoft's Bing strategy.  Had Google not demonstrated this, I would've been found this somewhat fascinating.  Is it a case of innovating or being a me-too competitor to Google?
Friends with benefits, Mike Lazaridis of RIM and
Microsoft's Steve Ballmer

One message Ballmer was clear to push through was that the cloud is going to be at the centre of everything that Microsoft does.  With cloud services being at the heart of everything, the idea is that you could move from device to device seamlessly.  This again sounds like Google’s language.
The Microsoft-RIM venture also helps put another chink the armour of Microsoft after tying up a deal with Nokia earlier this year where they said Nokia would be running on Windows Phone 7 devices in the future.  One thing Ballmer made sure to clarify that Windows Phone 7 won’t be a part of this partnership, especially considering RIM announced two new operating systems at the event (the new BlackBerry OS 7.0 which is going to be on the new generation BlackBerry Bold’s and QNX operating system on the PlayBook tablets).  However, future iterations could I suspect have a Microsoft feel to it.
So is Microsoft helping keeping sinking ships alive?  Has Microsoft leveraged their bets by banking beyond Windows Phone 7 and Nokia?  The R&D knowledge that exists within Microsoft, Nokia and RIM surely would have benefits for all three companies.  For example, RIM will be banking on Bing, Bing’s map service in turn is dependent on Navteq, which is in turn owned by Nokia.  In short, RIM has benefitted from the Nokia-Microsoft partnership, whether they intended for it to happen or not.  Does this sound like a menage-a-trois to anyone?
The reality of the situation is that the mobile industry is highly incestuous.  Each brand seems to benefit off the R&D of another brand because at the end of the day, many of these brands either have their components business to look after or use the contract manufacturer to eventually put together their kit.  The recent Apple suing Samsung episode is just an example of this, where Apple saw Samsung as a competitor who infringed on their design patents but at the same Apple is also highly dependent on Samsung to provide parts for the iPhone 4.

With BlackBerry devices being as popular as they are with corporate users, will working with Microsoft also mean that we could see mobile versions of Microsoft’s Office suite make their way onto BlackBerry AppWorld?  With Keynote, Pages and Numbers being amongst the most popular Apps on Apple’s App-store, this could certainly be a money making opportunity for both RIM and Microsoft.

Moving beyond the enterprise market though, Microsoft has also made forays into the consumer market with their gaming devices with the XBox.  With tablets and smartphones becoming an essential part of any gaming companies existence, could Microsoft be hoping their next lease of life in the gaming business comes from the tens of millions of BlackBerry subscribers out there?

Even though Microsoft never acquired Nokia, is Microsoft’s strategy to work with RIM on the high-end of the smartphone market and work with Nokia for the mass-market devices? After all, RIM’s announcement at the event is that amateur hour is over.  This partnership probably helps differentiate RIM from competitors in the market like Samsung, HTC or Motorola which don’t have their own operating system platform, however, there is still another fruit company called Apple which has their own hardware and software which RIM competes with that can't be forgotten.   

RIM also has kept their finger in many pies because as excited as they were with the Microsoft announcement, they also did mention that their flagship product, the PlayBook, would be compatible with Android apps, which means they've kept their gates open when it comes to possibly collaborating with Google, as and when it is convenient in the future.  

In short, in the space of three days, RIM showed us they've gone from being the isolated player in the mobile industry to now finding themselves in bed with Microsoft, Nokia and Google.  One thing is for sure, many of us left with more questions than answers once the hype was over.  Anyone have a crystal ball we can borrow to see just how this move forward, please share it with us if you do.

Posted By: Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer, Jacky's Electronics