Sprint Toward Integration
Instead of just designing cool products and throwing them out into the market, Handspring will now work with carriers in two ways. "Tier 1" carriersfrom which the company expects it will derive most of its revenuewill have access to all kinds of preferential treatment, including co-development, product customization, systems integration, and joint marketing and sales. Handspring cites its Sprint PCS alliance as a model for this kind of relationship, and it lists a slew of special efforts the company made to accommodate the CDMA carrier, including e-mail integration, IT integration, pre-loading and testing of Sprint software, and over-the-air provisioning and updates. (Rumor has it that Handspring President and co-founder Ed Colligan also had to cook breakfast for Sprint Chairman Bill Esrey twice a month.) Handspring, while admitting that carriers are not used to working so closely with handset manufacturers in this way, makes a strong case about why this sort of relationship will become more important. As the market turns to data, the complexities multiply exponentially.Plus, Handspring has some experience in tangoing with strongly branded partners such as Palm and has come away with a bit of brand recognition. I guess all those Visor billboards were worth something after all. To win a preferred place in a lineup of what will increasingly become data-centric handsets, Handspring is willing to stand on its head for carriers. Clearly, the company cant afford to invest such time and effort with every spectrum slinger. Its a strategy that will come down more to process and execution than innovative technology, but one where Handsprings focus may for the first time give it a sustainable advantage. What do you think of Handsprings strategy? Will it leap forward or is it headed for a tumble? E-mail me. Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin is a senior analyst at eMarketer. He has researched wireless communications since 1994 and has been covering technology since 1989. More from Ross Rubin:
One danger of this strategy is that carriers misread the market at least as often as any other company. And if Handspring relies too heavily on their judgment, they risk producing unappealing product. However, this probably isnt too great an issue. Sprint PCS has been among the most aggressive of the carriers in marketing handsets branded under its own sobriquet. If it wants to create something goofy, it has partners to do so.