Research In Motion and Lenovo on Feb. 16 announced a partnership to create mobile solutions for business travelers, starting with Lenovo Constant Connect, which syncs e-mail between a user's RIM BlackBerry smartphone and Lenovo ThinkPad laptop.
The retail price point for Constant Connect has been set at $150. The technology will be available in the United States in the second quarter of 2009, and will roll out worldwide in the second half of 2009, the companies said. RIM and Lenovo plan to officially announce their partnership at the Mobile World Congress, which kicks off Feb. 16 in Barcelona, Spain.
The announcement comes less than a week after RIM's Feb. 5 release of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0, designed to provide a more flexible and responsive network for BlackBerry enterprise users. It also comes within days of a much-publicized CEO shakeup at Lenovo.
Physically speaking, Lenovo Constant Connect is a PCI ExpressCard that plugs seamlessly into a ThinkPad notebook. From that point on, e-mail received on the user's BlackBerry will be synchronized via a Bluetooth connection with the user's ThinkPad, even if the ThinkPad in question is turned off.
"It will transfer, not only e-mail, but the e-mail in its entirety and any attachments in their native format, so you can work on them in PowerPoint or Word," Rich Cheston, executive director and distinguished engineer at Lenovo, said in an interview. "It's a pretty simple concept, but it took a long time to pull off."
For enterprise users on the road, Constant Connect could offer a greater degree of accessibility, as the ability to access e-mail on a ThinkPad via a BlackBerry means no more need to ferret out an airport or hotel hot spot-or even, for that matter, to turn the laptop on. Constant Connect has been designed to work with BlackBerry OS 4.2 or higher.
During the initial rollout, Constant Connect will support Microsoft Exchange and Outlook, as well as Google Gmail; this will be followed by IBM's Lotus Notes in the second half of 2009.
The initial configuration for Constant Connect offers users a high level of granular control, according to Cheston.
"The first-time setup will allow users to configure multiple e-mail accounts; you can have the device transfer [your] boss's e-mail first, for example, or have it only deliver certain attachments from certain people," Cheston said.
Constant Connect represents the first collaboration between Lenovo and RIM. The two said they plan to continue the partnership and develop other types of mobile products that take advantage of both companies' intellectual property and resources.
"Going forward I would expect [Lenovo and RIM] to do similar types of engagements because there are other phone types or device types they would want to share data easily with a laptop," John Spooner, an analyst for Technology Business Research, said in an interview. "Lenovo is also trying to boost its peripherals revenue; this is one way to do that."
The opportunity for synergy had been explored by both companies for roughly two years.
"Lenovo is adding significant value for our mutual customers by developing tighter and more seamless integration between Lenovo ThinkPad laptops and BlackBerry smartphones," Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of RIM, said in a statement. "Lenovo Constant Connect will simplify e-mail synchronization on the laptop and provide mobile professionals with greater flexibility to manage their e-mail on the move."
Constant Connect also represents a growing trend in laptops that can perform functions even while powered down.
"We're seeing quite a bit of evolution of data transfer involving a notebook that's technically off," Dean McCarron, an analyst with Mercury Research, said in an interview. "It's still kind of a bonus feature rather than a primary feature, but it could have a lot of utility for corporate users."