Two Head Scratching Announcements from RIM

Over the past few weeks Research in Motion - creators of the near ubiquitous BlackBerry mobile e-mail solution - has made two announcements that have left me scratching my head. I haven't seen these particular announcements get much mention on the Internet and I haven't seen any in-depth commentary or analysis either.

I believe RIM is up to something. Exactly what it is I don't know, but my gut tells me there's something going on here.

The first announcement was made on April 23, 2007. RIM issued this press release stating their intention to "expand its support for Windows Mobile-based devices with a new software application suite." They plan on doing this by releasing an application for "select devices" based on Windows Mobile 6 later this year.

The application will be a "virtual BlackBerry" running on top of Windows Mobile 6. Upon starting the application you'll be presented with the entire suite of BlackBerry applications including e-mail, calendar, notes, tasks, etc. in addition to being able to run 3rd-party applications written for the BlackBerry platform.

The second announcement was made on May 7, 2007 during the Wireless Enterprise Symposium. RIM issued this press release stating their intention to release a plug-in for Visual Studio that "extends the Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 rapid development environment to enable the creation of rich BlackBerry MDS Runtime applications for BlackBerry smartphones." This plug-in is planned to be a free release later this year. A preview page has already been created.

Standing by itself, the Visual Studio plug-in makes a lot of sense. It enables developers to write applications for the BlackBerry platform using a tool that many already know and use daily. Combine this with the announcement of the "virtual BlackBerry" a few weeks prior and things become a bit more hazy.

Why would RIM which by all accounts is enjoying massive success with the BlackBerry, both in hardware and software, decide to invest time and effort porting their OS and applications (written in Java mind you) to run on the platform developed by their main competitor?

There's no way Microsoft loses by them porting the BlackBerry platform to Windows Mobile. Microsoft will still sell Windows Mobile devices and Exchange Server regardless of which route an organization takes for mobile messaging (Exchange/DirectPush or Exchange/BlackBerry).

I've been speaking with our own Karen Forster about all of this for the past few weeks and she wondered aloud if I was thinking that Microsoft might be on the path to buy RIM. That's certainly one possibility. It becomes even more possible when you factor in Steve Ballmer's recent comments about large deals being "conceivable."

Perhaps RIM wants out of the hardware business? In this post on the Windows Mobile Team blog, Mike Calliagro notes that: "While Microsoft writes the bulk of the software on a WM device, a significant amount of it is written by the OEM or ODM who created the hardware." Maybe RIM doesn't want to bother with this anymore.

It's also possible that RIM sees an opportunity here for folks who have a Windows Mobile device right now and aren't satisfied with Microsoft's DirectPush technology. These people might love to switch over to the BlackBerry platform but don't want to buy new hardware. Of course, they're probably running Windows Mobile 5 devices right now and the virtual BlackBerry will only run on Windows Mobile 6. Plus why not simply buy a BlackBerry handheld? I was able to pick up a brand new BlackBerry 7290 for only $49 with a two-year contract late last year through T-Mobile.

There must be some strategic end game here that I'm not seeing. I'd love to hear some reader's thoughts on this!

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