Steve Ballmer personally took to the stage at Blackberry World 2011 (you remember? That thing you were going to pretend to care about before Osama bin Laden got all dead?) to announce a “strategic partnership” between Microsoft and RIM to bring Bing services to the Blackberry platform. This means not just search, but maps as well. Which is good! Microsoft is doing a lot in their mobile services department, so it’s pretty cool that they’re gonna bring these not-entirely-immature products to RIM’s not-entirely-appealing devices.
The services actually sound somewhat exciting, if not terribly new. Voice and location aware search. Even “panorama stitching”? Does this mean that Photosynth is coming to Blackberry? Admittedly, after trying out the app on my buddy’s iPhone, my Evo would certainly be a little jealous. Though, if Photosynth is the only truly unique thing, then I think my phone might get over it pretty quickly.
Notably, this marks the second company that Microsoft has partnered with that is treading water (at best) in the wake of the Android and iOS onslaught. And it’s perhaps worth noting that, in this area, it’s not like Microsoft is exactly the clear winner yet. TechCrunch recently wrote about the blackhole of money that Microsoft’s online services have turned in to. Now, I’ve already talked about how excited I am for WP7 as a platform. Indeed, there’s no shortage of things to be excited about. However, Microsoft is currently bleeding money at the expense of their online services (which includes but is not limited to Bing). To make matters more suspect, Microsoft’s plan is to team up with companies that are either dying* (Nokia) or haven’t yet acknowledged they’re dying (RIM).
Is this a good strategy or not? Well. That’s yet to be determined. Android got its start by attracting talent from HTC, a Taiwanese company with little influence three years ago, Motorola, a company on the verge of collapse before they released the Droid, and T-Mobile, the U.S. carrier with nothing to lose and a scrappy, underdog marketshare.
Then again, the companies Microsoft is teaming up with aren’t scrappy underdogs. They’re former titans of industry that have lost their edge. Nokia had the largest smartphone platform in the world. RIM was the corporate choice for phones that also can do the internets. RIM still operates with a pretty substantial userbase but, as we’ve pointed out before, they’re plateauing right now. Nokia has abandoned Symbian in the long-term. It could be a sign of a new and powerful conglomerate of software and hardware companies that will inevitably rule the smartphone world. Or, it could be more akin to seeing all your grandparents together at the family reunion. Sure, it’s pretty impressive to see all these elderly folks who have contributed a lot in one place, but really, what do they know about designing a smartphone?
In any case, like the Nokia partnership, this looks to be better news for Microsoft than it does for RIM. RIM is only demonstrating a more confused platform strategy. After officially supporting Android apps on the Blackberry Playbook, they also announced yesterday that they would begin supporting Android and iOS devices with their Blackberry Enterprise Server. Oh yeah, and lest we forget, RIM’s intentions to bring BBM to Android and iOS? Clearly RIM wants to be buddy-buddy with the winners. Pairing up with Bing seems like a confusing way to go about that strategy, though we can’t hear Microsoft complaining. With Bing not making any money for Microsoft, being on more phones, building up even greater marketshare and brand unity and ubiquity…well. They’re coming out ahead.
Well, we’ll see what happens. Godspeed, all contenders.
* — For some value of “dead”. Obviously, Nokia as a company is not “dying”, nor is RIM. However, major shifts are required for these companies in their smartphone strategies if they hope to maintain their long-term prospects for the future.