MicroRIM? RIMsoft? Ok so this isn’t exactly the most original what-if. The notion of Microsoft just buying smartphone market share through a RIM acquisition has been kicking around for awhile.
So why a rekindling of this hypothetical? For me it was a RIM’s unveiling of its Torch 9800 smartphone, which love it or leave it, permeates with self-consciousness, even desperation. It’s stretching to be all phones to all people as it emulates the touch-screen design of iPhones and Android phones, yet maintains the BlackBerry’s trademark keyboard. Its slide-out design is a throwback to the Palm Pre.
And speaking of Palm…Well, we all know what happened there. (Palm was acquired by HP a year after the much-hyped release of the Palm Pre). PC World’s Tony Bradley makes a case that RIM is now on the same road Palm was on a year ago.
I’m a happy Blackberry user and have been for three years. It’s a reliable device, with an easy-to-use interface and great e-mail and instant messaging functionality. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t stealing glances at the iPhone and the Droid X, and when it’s upgrade discount time I’ll probably jump ship to something more … I don’t know … Modern? Cool? Sexy?
[ For complete coverage on Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system — including hands-on reviews, video tutorials and advice on enterprise rollouts — see CIO.com’s Windows 7 Bible. ]
Nevertheless, the Torch and its accompanying BlackBerry OS 6 may indeed succeed in keeping bored but loyal BlackBerry users from immigrating to the prettier iPhone, but it’s not revolutionary enough to lure in new customers.
Make no mistake, RIM is still the smartphone market leader, owning one-third of the U.S. market. But its lead is slipping and many current BlackBerry users would rather be on another platform, according to a recent Nielsen survey.
Combine this lack of consumer momentum with a recent BlackBerry ban in India, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia over security and privacy issues and you get a sinking feeling about RIM. Is an acquisition the answer?
Enter Microsoft, wealthy as a king but lost at sea in the mobile space. Windows Phone 7, due this fall, is Microsoft’s fresh mobile start and early reviews have been positive, but it’s arguably years too late. Windows mobile market share is in the toilet. Consumers are not itching for a new Windows phone, but businesses might bite.
Which is why a Microsoft/RIM union could work. Don’t expect innovative design and aesthetics, but this could be a dream team for the ultimate business smartphone. Forget about consumers.
[ For everything you need to know about your RIM smartphone — see CIO.com’s BlackBerry Bible. ]
Of course, integrating the technologies would be complex to say the least. But whether Microsoft converts the BlackBerry platform to Windows or replaces Windows Phone 7 with the BlackBerry OS (probably a better idea), both companies’ applications and back-end technologies work well together as anyone running Outlook on their BlackBerry via BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) can tell you. Plus, RIM’s deep product lineup and established presence in the corporate world would be a boon for mobile has-been Microsoft.
RIM would also give Microsoft the hardware it needs. In case you haven’t noticed, phone makers like HTC, Motorola and Samsung are giddy about the explosively popular Android OS. Will Windows Phone 7 be an afterthought to them?
In return Microsoft would give RIM more money and resources, a massive enterprise customer base and marketing muscle.
But the problem is that the whole thing may be too expensive — likely in the neighborhood of $40 billion. It would be Microsoft’s biggest acquisition and Redmond may not be able to afford it. Fears about product integration may also be a deterrent. RIM may simply say no thanks and maintain its independence, thus avoiding riots on the streets of Ottawa.
Still, RIM is losing its luster fast. The iPhone and Android momentum is so palpable you can taste it. And Microsoft is plain desperate to be a mobile player again. Each company could clearly benefit from an acquisition.
In the end, a lot of this depends on Windows Phone 7. If it fails to catch on, Microsoft will either step out of the mobile space altogether or put a lot of money aside and rev up the jets for Ottawa.
What do you think?
Shane O’Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.