Weeks after announcing plans to ship the BlackBerry software with a forthcoming phone from Nokia Corp., Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) is expected to announce Monday that Palm Inc. will install the push e-mail software on the Treo 650 starting early next year.
RIM has had a licensing program called BlackBerry Connect in place for two years, but most of the customers for that program have come in Europe and Asia-Pacific, said Mark Guibert, vice president of corporate marketing with RIM. The company is now hitching its wagon to Palm's Treo 650, which is one of the hottest selling smart phones or wireless personal digital assistants in the U.S.
Palm will implement the BlackBerry software alongside its Versamail e-mail client in order to keep a familiar look-and-feel in place for Palm OS users, said Joe Fabris, director of wireless marketing for Palm. Treo 650s with the BlackBerry software will be able to access e-mail delivered by Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange or IBM Corp.'s Lotus Domino e-mail servers.
The BlackBerry software allows corporations to "push" email from behind a firewall to mobile devices. RIM has its own hardware, also called the BlackBerry, but is looking to expand the number of devices that use its software, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with The Enderle Group in San Jose, California.
"The BlackBerry is a great little e-mail box, but as soon [they] added telephony, they started to struggle," Enderle said. RIM offers several devices, such as the BlackBerry 7100, that allow users to make phone calls as well as access their e-mail. But Palm and Nokia do a much better job of integrating voice and data communications in a single device, he said.
Two weeks ago at CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment 2005, RIM and Cingular Wireless LLC announced plans to ship Nokia's 9300 phone with the BlackBerry software. That device will be available next month in the U.S.
RIM is expected to continue making handhelds for the near future, having announced plans at CTIA to use processors from Intel Corp. in future devices. But burgeoning software deals with the likes of Palm, Nokia, and other handset makers allow RIM to supplement its hardware business with higher-margin software licenses, Enderle said. This business model could also be attractive if RIM loses its legal battle with NTP Inc. over patents related to the BlackBerry devices, he said.
NTP has sued RIM alleging the BlackBerry devices infringe on patents held by NTP, and RIM has lost several appeals. RIM plans to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, while the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reviews the validity of NTP's patents.
Palm will start selling the BlackBerry Treo 650 right around the time it introduces a new Treo that runs Windows Mobile. The Windows Treo will use Microsoft-developed push e-mail technology that is expected to be part of a new version of Windows Mobile available later this year.
For now, Palm will use BlackBerry only on Palm OS devices and use Microsoft's push e-mail software on the Windows Mobile devices, Fabris said. However, that might change in the future as Palm looks to provide choices to its users, he said.
"The goal is to get to ... no matter what Treo you're using, to make the experience the same. We're going to do our best to bring the BlackBerry service to any Treo," Fabris said.
Treo 600 users will not be able to use the BlackBerry software on their devices, Fabris said. It will only be available for the Treo 650 and future Palm OS-based Treos, he said.
Palm has an existing partnership with RIM competitor Good Technology Inc. to use its Goodlink push e-mail software on Palm devices such as the Treo 600 and 650. Good's software also works with Windows Mobile devices.