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A Match Made in Mobile Purgatory? Microsoft and RIM

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Microsoft launched their first Windows-based smartphone operating system in October 2001. That's right. Pocket PC 2002, code named "Merlin", was released 11 years ago and thus began Microsoft's mobile odyssey.

Aesthetically based on Windows XP, Microsoft diehards flocked to the new devices that sported the familiar START button, and mini-versions of familiar applications like Pocket Word, and Pocket Outlook. The phones used a stylus (like the new Samsung Note!) but the user experience was horrible. I had one of these new phones and decided that Pocket PC meant that I would leave it in my pocket rather than try to use it.

In 2003, the platform was relaunched as Windows Mobile 2003 and continued on over the years as Windows Mobile 5 then Mobile 6.0, 6.1, 6.5, 7, and the soon to be released Windows Phone 8. After 11 years of trying, the Windows Mobile platform accounts for less than 1% of smartphone market share compared to 38% for Apple, 19% for Blackberry and 38% for Android as of January 2012.

Clearly Windows Phone 7 isn't cutting it and I don't think Windows Phone 8 will either. With the Blackberry maker RIM struggling today to stay relevant, I think it's time they join forces, hire some new interface designers and give Apple and Android a run for their money -- if they do it right.

There are many reasons a Microsoft purchase of RIM makes sense and would make it a slam dunk. RIM is still the number one enterprise solution for companies around the world -- for now. If Microsoft was to concentrate its efforts (and money) on the Canadian company to strengthen this position, it would be able to continue its dominance in this market. RIM's Blackberry Enterprise Server and Microsoft's Exchange server could be rolled into one corporate-oriented solution. The Blackberry has done best as a corporate smartphone, and with Microsoft's help, they might be able to better tackle the consumer market dominated by big touchscreens and mountains of apps. Remember that Google just recently bought Motorola Mobility and Apple is in control of making iPhones. RIM's consumer phones have been a big disappointment.

Another compelling reason for this union is that most likely someone will purchase RIM, and if not Microsoft, then who? RIM has spent over $1.4 billion on their new QNX mobile platform, and just rolled out version 2.0 of their Playbook software which seems to be too little too late.

RIM will need significant investment if they are to get out of the hole they are in and Microsoft is just the one to do it. RIM is betting the farm on QNX (also called Blackberry 10) which most agree is a superior mobile platform. But it remains to be seen if they can survive long enough to actually deploy it. I think it's just a matter of time until these two companies merge efforts. I just hope that the combined marketing teams don't rebrand it as "PocketBerry 2012."

Rob Whent (rwhent@otepinc.com) is the President and CEO of OTEP Inc. and is the Entrepreneur in Residence at WEtech Alliance in Windsor, Ontario. OTEP (www.otep.com) is developing adaptive video game technology to assess and improve cognitive abilities in children with learning disabilities under the Think2Learn brand (www.think-2-learn.com).

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