RIM targets enterprise with partnerships

It was a day of global announcements for Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion (RIM) Tuesday, as it squares-off against competitor Palm Inc. in a fight for the mobile computing spotlight.

RIM announced a partnership with Redmond, Wash.-based AT&T Wireless and Uxbridge, England-based mobile telecommunication provider mm02 PLC yesterday. The deal will see RIM add its new GSM/GPRS version of the BlackBerry wireless handheld device – which features integrated data and voice capabilities – to AT&T Wireless’ existing BlackBerry product line-up.

Later in the day, RIM announced a similar partnership with Toronto-based Rogers AT&T.

The announcements come only days after Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm Inc.’s launched its latest salvo in the wireless handheld wars, taking direct aim at the Blackberry. The Palm i705 is designed to make remote management of e-mail easier and more accessible.

It’s all part of a battle that Toronto-based IDC Canada analyst Warren Chaisatien said RIM is winning – for now.

“It’s clear that RIM intends to hold onto its expertise as a provider of computing devices,” he said. “It is a natural evolution, but this is not the destination nor the end of the journey.”

He expects RIM will see competitors attempting to tap the same market with a different approach. “For example, Nokia will play up their expertise – voice – as the added value. I think, when it comes to this wireless marketplace, Palm is still a step behind,” he said. “Having said that, they are all vying for the same pocket, the corporate market.”

But competition aside, Mark Guibert, vice-president of brand management for RIM, said the agreement works because, from a technical perspective, AT&T and RIM are a good match.

Under the RIM/Rogers agreement, the new BlackBerry Handheld combines wireless phone capabilities with its existing wireless data services such as e-mail and Internet access. It’s also equipped with an earpiece and microphone for convenient, hands-free phone calls. BlackBerry provides users with enhanced wireless email and access to the Internet, and a personal organizer that can synchronize with the users’ desktop.

“What’s important is that companies are installing software behind the firewall so it’s a tremendous foundation that we have built,” Guibert said. “As the new networks are being deployed and more capability through Java as our operating system, the combination of these things is really opening up the possibility for additional applications in the enterprise.”

Mark Siegel, spokesperson for AT&T Wireless, said while this agreement doesn’t preclude his company from making deals with other handheld companies, BlackBerry was the way to go this time “It is the hottest device of its kind on the marketplace and aligning with a leader like that is only a smart move for us,” he said. “The BlackBerry, if you go to any executive meeting, you see them all over the table.”

Guibert agreed, calling the corporate sector the “sweet spot” for a product like BlackBerry, but was tight-lipped about further competitive strategy.

“The reality is that we are not a fan of showing our cards too early because we have had stuff to work on and deliver to our customers and we have largely been competing with press releases from other companies,” he said. “I have heard some hype about Palm’s announcement over the last day and I am not convinced we are even targeting the same customer.”

That’s because two-thirds of RIM’s customers are laptop users and Palm has rolled out a desktop product which, “frankly, won’t help our customers,” Guibert said.

“If you tell them they have to leave their laptop running on their desk to get at their e-mail, they will say ‘No thanks’.”

But Michael Moskowitz, general manager and president of Palm Canada, said that RIM’s announcement is “putting the cart before the horse.”

“When will those products be out and when will carriers be ready nation-wide,” he said. “The network has not been formally launched and rolled out nationally. It’s talking about something that is coming out in the future and it’s a relationship.”

Moskowitz said Palm and RIM are after basically the same customers. “There’s two markets,” he said. “One is the consumer individual market that we have always had a stronghold on and the enterprise market, which is so important. That is a key customer base that both companies are trying to capture.”

But IDC’s Chaisatien cautioned that voice capability isn’t everything in Canada.

“It appears that while voice capability is important to corporate users, it appears to be less important than the ability to access company information, like legacy systems,” he said. “My point is that RIM and AT&T have this product, well that is good. But I don’t know if that is the number one killer app that corporate Canada is looking for. The number one killer app is e-mail and number two is CRM (customer relations management).”

Details of the supply agreement for BlackBerry wireless handhelds with associated software and service were not disclosed. (With files from IDG News Service)

AT&T wireless, based in Redmond, Wash., is at http://www.attws.com

Research in Motion, based in Waterloo, Ont., is at http://www.rim.net

Palm Canada, based in Toronto is at http://www.palm.com