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RIM Should Keep an Eye on the Mirror as it Navigates the Road Ahead

The first item known to everyone in existence is that RIM is presently embroiled in a pesky patent dispute with NTP, Inc., a company that takes a Seinfeldian approach to business by offering absolutely no products or technologies. It is a company that essentially has nothing, except perhaps ownership of the some of the design and technology patents that are the heart and soul of the Blackberry technology. NTP doesn’t claim to have developed these patents, but did manage to secure the rights - much like Michael Jackson bought the rights to old Beatles songs and such well-worn tunes as Happy Birthday to You. Whether or not NTP can make its patent infringement claims stick, or flip the “off” switch on Blackberry, is a matter for the courts to decide. I won’t get into it here, since this has been an issue pinging and ponging about for years, and I thankfully kicked my Blackberry addiction years ago.

The second widely-known fact is that RIM has been expanding its Blackberry technology like crazy, most recently striking a deal with that other well-promoted company icon, Google, Inc., which allows Blackberry users to make use of Google Talk to send instant messages to other Google Talk members and access Google Local for maps and satellite imagery (which should really play well on that very tiny handheld screen).

What may not be so widely known, however, is that the Blackberry’s most dangerous enemy is not NTP and its patent-paper-pushers, but yet a third iconoclastic company that hails from bucolic Redmond, WA. Microsoft Corp. has been quickly eating up market share with its Windows Mobile operating system platform, especially in regions outside the U.S. Recently, Cingular Wireless also unveiled a neat little quad-band phone that comes equipped with Windows Mobile 5.0 and not only plays well with Microsoft Office applications but also includes a very capable multimedia-aware suite of software that supports a variety of audio and video formats (alas, not the formats promoted by Apple and its iTunes, but that is another story).

A Blackberry Blackout

Blackberry has valiantly tried to expand its reach into Windows Mobile turf by offering its Blackberry Connect software, which provides a bridge between the two messaging worlds. However, nothing really beats a dedicated and flexible OS platform for real functionality and enterprise adoption. Windows Mobile has not only surfaced in the new Cingular 2125, a private-labeled smartphone manufactured by HTC in Taiwan, but is also now the OS of choice in the Palm Treo 700w, a Windows version of the popular Treo smartphone.

Right now, a lot of enterprise users may be thinking about alternatives as RIM wrestles with patent problems and rumors fly about temporary service suspensions. So, Windows Mobile devices have got to look more attractive to gun-shy IT managers who don’t want to get caught unprepared if the lights go out.

One more factor working in favor of Microsoft and its mobile push (aside from the Time cover story and photo-op with Bono), is the company’s extended investment in Windows CE, the little OS platform that couldn’t really make it as a stand-alone framework for handhelds but continues to make a big splash in embedded systems. There are efforts right now to use Windows CE (which is really the biological father of Windows Mobile) as the core OS for a new wave of dedicated ‘purpose-built’ mobile phones that are designed for specific industries and tasks.

Such phones, for example, might be used by healthcare professionals to communicate and to securely swap patient data and remote telemetric information. These phones may also someday be combined with personal mobile diagnostic devices to keep tabs on a patient’s condition when insurance company bean counters decided to boot that patient out of a hospital bed. When combined with security technology and biometrics, these Windows CE phones might even be used as extensions of our personal selves to speed us through airport security by delving in a little machine-to-machine (M2M) foreplay.

Of course, a lot could happen in the next several months to change this scenario, including actions by Symbian, which is the OS leader-of-the-pack when it comes to worldwide dominance in smartphone OSes. It might be a good idea, though, for RIM to keep an eye on the rearview mirror as it watches the road ahead. The competition may be a lot closer than it seems.

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