BlackBerry maker RIM's emerging iPhone battle plan

Shhh! Keep it quiet, but it looks like BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion is quietly weaving together a strategy designed to help it in its digital media-driven battle for market share with Apple’s iPhone.


Strike one: News emerged today that RIM is climbing in with TiVo, developing software for the BlackBerry that could vastly improve the way the device links up with video content. The first jointly-developed software app should ship this year.

Initially, BlackBerry smartphone users will gain the convenience of being able to discover what shows are on and schedule television recordings while away from the living room and on the go. "Future collaboration between the companies will focus on software applications that further simplify mobile access to video content," the partners said, leading to speculation  BlackBerry users will be able to stream video from their TiVo to their handheld.

It’s a battle on Apple’s home turf, bestowing improved media access and playback features on RIM’s device. It’s a strategic move, said Jim Balsillie, Co-CEO of Research In Motion. "As the BlackBerry smartphone continues its evolution as a modern lifestyle device, the importance of home entertainment integration will continue to grow and TiVo will be the key in providing consumers with greater flexibility in accessing television content."

Tom Rogers, CEO and President of TiVo Inc. "RIM and TiVo share a commitment to great user experiences, which cause our products to become seamlessly integrated into the consumer’s lifestyle. We also share a vision for the future of mobile entertainment services and we look forward to a variety of future innovations as a result of this relationship."

Strike Two: RIM has also made a move to team with Ticketmaster, Billboard revealed this morning. Under this new deal, BlackBerry has become the official smartphone for Ticketmaster, and users of the device will be able to buy tickets from the booking service in the US, Canada and UK using software that’s being jointly-developed by RIM and Ticketmaster.

"Our new agreement with RIM ushers in the next generation of lifestyle innovation designed to conveniently connect fans to live entertainment," Ticketmaster CEO Sean Moriarty said in a statement.

Also this week, RIM debuted its all new Pearl Flip device at the CTIA show. This looks and acts like the standard Blackberry Pearl, but has a flip-down cover for the screen, WiFi, mobile streaming, video recording and other features and will be made available on T-Mobile in the US.

RIM really has no choice. Even as Apple continues to improve its iPhone offering to the enterprise, the BlackBerry maker must strive to strengthen  its move toward becoming a more consumer-friendly device. 

With reports suggesting that the iPhone 3G is the fastest selling phone for both AT&T in the States and O2 in the UK, it’s no surprise that its sales are taking customers away from other smartphones including the BlackBerry Curve, Samsung Blackjack 2, Palm Centro, and BlackBerry Pearl.

But RIM has more to concern itself with than Apple – the company is also facing renewed vigour from competitors, Nokia and Microsoft, who have clearly announced a plan to go up against the Canadian company.

Nokia and Microsoft this week announced a deal that brings Exchange support to nearly all of Nokia’s smartphones. Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia’s executive vice president for markets, told BusinessWeek that the deal is “absolutely” aimed at RIM and its BlackBerry handsets and software. 

As Mobile Today observed yesterday, achieving a 5 per cent share of the smartphone market means you’ve made it in the mobile industry – and Apple seems set to exceed this notional target.

"The first sales figures obtained by Mobile for the 3G iPhone reveal that Apple is on course to breeze by this milestone. Its sales have consistently hovered at around 4-7% of the market. What is amazing about this feat is that it has been achieved on the back of a single product, sold at a premium price on terms dictated by the manufacturer," editor-in-chief, David Nunn observed.

Changewave director of research David Carton has also noted RIM’s plans to counter the Apple offensive. "RIM isn’t taking the Apple 3G challenge lying down," Carton notes. "The Canadian manufacturer has multiple plans in motion to counter Apple’s momentum among consumers, including an already announced new product release (the Bold) and two likely additional product releases (the Thunder and Kickstart)."

And while RIM could be seen as isolated with Apple on the one side, and other competitors on the other, one thing the BlackBerry family shares with the iPhone is product loyalty – so Nokia and Microsoft may in the end find themselves sharing a shrinking bed.

"The Apple iPhone has captured the hearts and minds of its user base, and so has the RIM BlackBerry," Carton said. "Fortunately for both, the global consumer and enterprise smart phone markets are big enough to support both Apple and RIM – it’s the other cell phone manufacturers that look like the real losers."

The question is – will RIM’s move to make its device more consumer multimedia friendly help it retain its Q2 2008 US 46 percent marketshare? And will Apple’s iPhone sales remain strong in the months ahead?

In related news: Google today announced its free Google Mobile App for BlackBerry. 

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