Why RIM remains safe from Nokia-Microsoft pact

Microsoft has recently announced a partnership with mobile phone giant Nokia to integrate Microsoft Office apps into Nokia phones.Some see the move as an admission on Microsoft’s part that its own mobile platform is underperforming.

Why, then, does Nokia think it can use Mobile Office to lure BlackBerry  customers away from RIM? In the mobile market, Microsoft as a name brand doesn’t have the kind of influence that it does in the PC world, and for those relatively few users who actually do need an office suite on their phone, the mobile market is already saturated with effective, low-cost Office-compatible options.

The bare reality is that most people don’t actually need–or even want to–edit documents and spreadsheets on their phones. People aren’t trying to perform mail-merges on their phones. Nor are they creating animated Power Point presentations or clustered-column charts. People want to be able to view documents, which they already can on most devices. In rare cases, some may want to perform the most basic edits. Office compatibility is useful, but the full set of features and branding is not required. While Microsoft Exchange interoperability is nearly critical for a massive number of business smartphone users, people are happy using the mail applications bundled with their iPhones and Blackberries, and there’s no crowd of users out there clamoring for Outlook.

Users who need productivity software on their phones already have a number of options. One great choice is Quickoffice,  which is only $20 and is supported on a multitude of Nokia, BlackBerry, Palm, iPhone, and Android devices.  Then there is Documents To Go,  which runs on a similar array of portable devices and gives PDF capabilities on top of the ability to create Word, Excel and PowerPoint compatible files. Other productivity suites for the BlackBerry include eOffice and BeamSuite. Soon Microsoft will launch a free online version of its productivity suite when Office 10 launches, which is supported by not only IE, but also Firefox and Safari (including mobile Safari).

Mobile Office isn’t really the same Office you have on your PC anyway. Once you strip off enough features to make Office feasible on a mobile internet device (MID), all you’re really left with is just another mobile productivity suite with Microsoft Office branding.

The killer apps are the browser, connectivity, the user interface, and mobile media. All we have to do is look at the top selling iPhone and BlackBerry devices to see what features are important to users. If mobile office were a killer app, we’d see Windows Mobile as the dominant mobile platform, but it’s not. This is ample evidence that users aren’t concerned with replicating their desktop computers on their mobile phones. So while it’s certainly nice that users who want official Microsoft Office software on their Nokia handsets will now have that option, don’t anticipate a stampede of users rushing to get their hands on it.

Michael Scalisi is an IT manager based in Alameda, California.

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