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The BlackBerry has become a common addiction in Canada, and the iPhone is about to shake things up. So do Windows Mobile devices really stand a chance of penetrating the market, without the brand recognition of a BlackBerry and the sex appeal of an iPhone?

A few years ago, HP claimed its iPaq Mobile Messenger would be a BlackBerry killer. That hasn’t exactly happened. Dell’s low-cost Axim? That didn’t exactly take off either — many people had never even heard about it before the product was killed off.

Compaq first unveiled the iPaq in 2000 and it pretty much dominated the Windows mobile market — before HP acquired Compaq in 2003. Then the iPaq began to lose its luster. There are several theories behind this — that the merger caused them to lose focus on innovation, or that the industry as a whole changed.

Then, in 2005, HP decided to get back in the game by launching the iPaq Mobile Messenger with GPS, its “BlackBerry killer,” in an attempt to kickstart the iPaq brand and regain marketshare. Well, we all know the BlackBerry is far from dead, and no other company (with the possible exception of Apple) seems capable of touching RIM. But a new iPaq is on the horizon — which raises the question of whether HP is able to bring the iPaq brand back into the limelight.

After all, HP is dominating the PC market, so why not the mobile device market? Its smart branding — “the computer is personal again” — featuring ads with rapper Jay-Z and fashion designer Vera Wang have made the HP brand trendy and hip. Its latest high-end business notebook, the EliteBook, features an aircraft-inspired design with a brushed aluminum exterior. Its new consumer notebooks feature a liquid metallic surface design and flush-glass screens. The luxury Voodoo Envy is just plain cool.

During HP’s Connecting Your World conference in Berlin, the company announced the latest iPaq Business Messenger 3G smartphone with a glossy piano-black design and Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional operating system (not many Windows mobile devices are using this OS yet, so HP is stepping up its game here). It has all the latest wireless technologies, support for voice and e-mail communications, as well as management software that allows enterprises to remotely manage, secure and support devices.

But there was no talk of this being a BlackBerry killer. According to Todd Bradley, executive vice-president of HP’s Personal Systems Group, there probably won’t be a big push in North America at this point, since there are bigger markets for the iPaq elsewhere, including Asia and Europe.

In Canada, the iPaq Business Messenger will be available later this summer over the Rogers network. The market here could pick up in a few years, according to Michael McAvoy, director of SMB and commercial marketing for HP Canada, as we start to see faster networks. He believes there’s still a huge growth curve in Canada, as we evolve from checking our e-mail to accessing applications — from checking an order status to accessing customer lists to proofreading an Excel document.

So maybe it’s not about being a BlackBerry killer anymore — which might be a tad unrealistic. Maybe it’s about providing an alternative to the BlackBerry, one that can be used with Exchange Server — something that will appeal to IT managers more than teenagers. (Of course, the iPhone also works with Exchange Server, but one criticism is its lack of central management capabilities.)

Still, HP has definitely upped the cool factor with its latest iPaq — and that never hurts. But it’s more likely to win over converts with its features and functionality.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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