Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage at this year's BlackBerry World Conference to announce that Bing will serve as the integrated search and mapping service for Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphones.
"While Microsoft will support the top phone platforms with our cloud services," Ballmer told the audience, "we're going to invest uniquely in the BlackBerry platform in addition to our own Windows Phone platform."
The Bing agreement marks a deepening partnership between Microsoft and RIM. The two are already partnering to port cloud services such as Office 365 onto the BlackBerry and the new PlayBook tablet, with RIM's BlackBerry Servers connecting "cloud to cloud" with Microsoft's data centers to host Office 365 data on users' devices.
"Effective today, Bing will become the preferred search and maps application for BlackBerry," Ballmer added, "with regular feature placement and promotion in the BB App World carousel. BlackBerry devices will use Bing as the default search provider in the browser, and Bing is the default search and map experience for new devices presented to mobile operators both here in the United States and around the world."
Near the end of 2011, Bing will be tightly integrated into the BlackBerry operating system, expanding beyond a mere search box to become a core component of RIM's devices. Both Microsoft and RIM will devote resources to promoting Bing on BlackBerry's merging of search, commerce, social- and location-centric services.
The partnership could allow Microsoft and RIM to better compete in the mobile arena, where both face formidable rivals in the form of Google and Apple.
"Over the past few years, suffice it to say, we've seen numerous mobile phone platforms emerge," Ballmer said. "Certainly Android, the volumes have risen, but there is ensuing chaos that has caused a level of frustration, let's just say with developers and consumers alike."
He also fired off a few barbs at Microsoft's other high-profile opponent: "Apple's platform has certainly offered opportunity for application developers, but there are a very limited set of ways to collaborate and extend the experiences of their device for businesses and consumers."
As Ballmer mentioned, Microsoft is also trying to expand the reach of its own Windows Phone 7 platform, which has seen limited consumer adoption despite a massive advertising campaign and devices available on a number of carriers. In contrast to other companies in the smartphone arena, whose products generally offer grid-like screens of individual applications and features, Windows Phone 7 consolidates Web content and applications into a set of subject-specific "Hubs."
Despite that unique user interface, however, Microsoft has hit some speed bumps in updating the software over the past few months. According to new data from The Nielsen Company, some 7 percent of consumers indicated they wanted a Windows Mobile/Windows Phone 7 device as their next smartphone, lagging behind Google Android at 31 percent, Apple's iOS at 30 percent and BlackBerry at 11 percent. That number roughly parallels data from comScore suggesting that Microsoft holds 7.7 percent of the smartphone market.
Google also continues to dominate the search-engine arena, leading Microsoft to pursue an alternate strategy with Bing: Instead of battling it out for a larger share of traditional keyword-based search, Bing's engineers and executives have focused on exploiting verticals such as travel, and leveraging partnerships with companies such as Facebook. That angling of Bing as an engine for "getting things done," as opposed to hunting for Web pages and raw data, is evidently being leveraged more and more in the context of smartphones, whose users are often in transit or otherwise need actionable data quickly.