December 18, 2003

Palm & Blackberry Joined Forces

In the "If you can't beat 'em, partner with them" category:

PalmInfocenter reports that "PalmSource and Research In Motion (RIM) have formalized their development relationship and have begun efforts to jointly develop a software client that enables BlackBerry connectivity to Palm OS."

The idea is to develop a solution for Palm OS devices to enable them to connect to a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) "using the same secure push-based wireless architecture and infrastructure that currently supports thousands of companies and government organizations. The BlackBerry Connect solution for Palm OS will also support BlackBerry Web Client, a wireless Internet email service for individuals and small business that does not require server software."

[Update: Here are the official press releases from PalmSource and RIM that are dated today, Dec. 18th.]

Overall, I see this as very good news for several reasons:

1) From an IT perspective, supporting and integrating these different proprietary devices can become quite burdensome. Having one server solution is key, and many large firms already have at least one BES server in place to support their existing BlackBerries.

2) I can't tell you how many attorneys I've worked with who loved BlackBerries for the wireless e-mail support, but hated its PDA functions compared to Palms. I also know quite a few that carry both a BlackBerry and a Palm for this very reason, or have purchased Treos to try to get the best of both worlds.

Although it will be interesting to see how the newly blurred lines between Palm and BlackBerries will affect the market, we'll have to wait awhile before it's even released. The news blurb stated that it won't be created until the second half of 2004. I think this will let PalmOne (the Palm hardware company) compete against RIM in the handheld device market, while letting RIM retain its BES server market.

It also occurs to me that PalmOne will need to wisely choose and include the necessary wireless capabilities into their new devices. This could be a continuation of the higher-end Palms' built-in Wi-Fi circuitry to correspond with BlackBerry's 2004 venture into Wi-Fi support. Other choices include building in Cingular's Mobitext or Motient-compatible data network radios, or perhaps just going digital cellular (GSM, TDMA, and/or CDMA). Wi-Fi is the most carrier-agnostic choice, but it's not nearly as widespread as cellular coverage (e.g., across urban and rural areas alike), at least not yet. Also, will PalmOne gear their introduction of the BlackBerry features into the Treo smartphone line, or on their wireless "business class" organizers, such as the Tungsten C, or both? Obviously, we'll find out more as they progress.

If the Palm OS programs work well with BES, this may finally present PalmOne (hardware) and PalmSource (software) with a way into its most coveted market -- the enterprise -- which they have otherwise bungled numerous times. In any event, the Palm camp has an interesting and challenging year ahead of them. While the Treo 600 is still hot now, it's mostly driven by end-consumer purchases, not corporate IT orders. If Palm (collectively) and RIM can present a compelling Palm/BlackBerry device in late 2004, then perhaps 2005 might finally see firms standardizing around a device incorporating the best of both worlds.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard