Why BlackBerry Is Getting the Raspberry

With competitors stealing RIM's act, Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin writes, the BlackBerry maker needs to expand its partnerships and application support before its wheels fall off.

Research in Motion was a little-known manufacturer of high-end paging devices—a David to Motorolas Goliath—when it began an odyssey into corporate messaging that started with the RIM 950. This device, with its boxy design, streamlined UI and trailblazing thumbboard, was the basic hardware on which RIM would build its famous BlackBerry service. For those who havent heard the jokes, BlackBerrys powers of addiction earned it the label "Crackberry," and its users telltale behavior of lowering their heads as they peered into the devices screen has been mockingly dubbed "the BlackBerry prayer."

While BlackBerry has attracted a fanatical following, though, its adoption shows that within corporate IT departments, the idea of BlackBerry holds more sway than its implementation. At just over 500,000 subscribers, RIM claims a tiny slice of corporate ITs mobile platforms. RIM cant even hide behind the general economic malaise of the past few years, since several research studies show that wireless has been one area where IT budgets have not suffered.

There have been a number of reasons for RIM resistance, including the price of the service, an installation procedure that attempts to interfere with the alignment of the planets Microsoft Exchange admins work weeks to achieve, and the usual FUD from Redmond on integrating ASP .Net mobile controls (or whatever nom du jour Microsoft has attached to Exchanges support for mobile devices). RIM tries to position the BlackBerry as an alternative to a laptop, but it really isnt. Indeed, such an argument may be pushing sales more toward Pocket PCs.

As a results, RIM has become better-known as a company with arrows in its back than on its keyboards. Indeed, while RIM has finally decided to start licensing its Exchange-synchronization technology, it is now competing against a slew of offerings from companies such as PalmSource, Extended Systems, Seven, Good Technology, and Synchrologic, the latter of which proclaims on its Web site that Pocket PC has surpassed RIM for mobile e-mail. On the hardware side, you can bet that the more consumer-focused Handspring and Danger Inc. will be taking their mini-keyboards to the enterprise side in due time.

Yet RIM is not simply a victim of its own success. The company deserves some of the blame for its fall from the grace of the mobile elite. While RIM has added a bigger screen, voice and support for multiple networks, the basic design of the BlackBerry devices remains the same—boring, black and all-business. Only this summer will AT&T Wireless unveil a RIM device in—wait for it—a blue case! The carrier is also offering RIM a chance to revamp its image by allowing users of the "proprietary networks" on which BlackBerry grew to prominence to trade up to the faster data rate the carriers GPRS network offers.

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