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12/15/2006
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RIM's Key To Success Will Be Great Applications, Not Lawsuits

The vendor is racing rivals to build an ISV ecosystem around its platform. But RIM's also pestering rival Samsung in court over its latest smartphone.

Research In Motion's BlackBerry brand is synonymous with wireless push e-mail, but that won't be nearly enough for RIM to maintain its lead in handheld computing. The winner of the next battle for business users will be the company with the right applications tuned for its platform.

RIM, which has more than half the U.S. smartphone market and about 6 million subscribers, is scrambling to build an ecosystem of independent software vendors, particularly those that cater to industries that are early adopters of handheld computing, such as health care and real estate. The number of applications available on the BlackBerry platform has nearly tripled over the past year, to more than 1,500. "We've done the e-mail thing, and it's time to get the necessary applications into businesses' hands," says Jeff McDowell, the company's VP of global alliances.

BlackJack's on the left, BlackBerry on the right--and RIM doesn't like the sound of it

BlackJack's on the left, BlackBerry on the right--and RIM doesn't like the sound of it
RIM's vulnerability to "me-too" wireless e-mail and smartphone vendors was seen this month, when it filed a lawsuit against Samsung after its launch of the sleek BlackJack smartphone. RIM says the BlackJack name sounds a bit too much like BlackBerry, and it's asking a U.S. District Court for an injunction that would prevent Samsung from selling the device.

RIM faces stiff competition on the application front, as well. Motorola--the No. 2 cell phone maker after Nokia, but a minor player in the smartphone market--offers the Motopro Mobility Suite development framework, which it expanded this year to include tools for developing apps that leverage Google's Search Appliance. Motorola has a joint venture called CanvasM that helps companies and service providers develop apps for mobile devices, including its Windows Mobile-based Moto Q smartphone. Like RIM, Nokia provides tools for Java developers to create mobile apps on its Symbian-based devices. The Palm OS, which runs on Palm Treo smartphones, supports more than 29,000 applications, and Windows Mobile 5.0, Microsoft's mobile operating system, supports nearly 20,000. In August, the company that owns the Palm OS, software vendor Access, launched a site that provides tools and support to developers of apps around mobile Linux.

NOT JUST ANY APP

But winning over businesses is more about delivering the right applications than supporting a lot of them. This year, RIM focused its ISV partnership efforts around getting mobile apps developed that serve key industries: Financial services and insurance, legal, health care, real estate, government, and law enforcement. In addition to 1,500 business applications, BlackBerry supports thousands of consumer apps, including mapping and photo sharing. Sales-force automation, CRM, and field service apps are most commonly used on the BlackBerry, and business intelligence is a major growth area, McDowell says. Cognos will roll out a mobile version of its business intelligence software early next year to view reports on BlackBerry devices. Another app in high demand after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina--especially for government agencies, banks, and companies with far-flung operations--assists with continuity of operations by providing emergency contacts, procedures, area maps, and an alternative means of communication when the phone network is down.

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RIM in October even started offering a server package sans e-mail. It could appeal to users, such as doctors and nurses in hospitals, who just want their vertical apps on the go.

RIM knows even an omnipresent brand name and dominant market share are fragile in a sector poised to move as quickly as smartphones. But it's good news for BlackBerry shops, as they're likely to get a lot more choice in mobile applications.

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