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Mobile middleware vendors are a strong alternative to high-profile partnerships like RIM and SAP

Even as RIM focuses on encouraging more third-party BlackBerry development, middleware specialists still play an important enterprise role.

When SAP and RIM jointly announced that the former's leading CRM application was coming to BlackBerry handhelds, many were impressed by the seamless functionality and tight integration the partnership brought. Not Jim Hemmer, CEO of Antenna Software.

"This is not new news," he said. "It's like there is an open bar and they just walked into the bar. We've been doing this for a long time."

Jersey City-based Antenna Software and other mobile middleware specialists have been tapping into BlackBerry's back-end functionality for years now, connecting mobile users with data pulled from a variety of databases into a single, unified interface. Now that leading enterprise software vendors like SAP and Oracle are paying more attention to the mobile ecosystem, however, these middleware specialists will be seeing more competition.

"The software vendors themselves, SAP and Oracle, had been saying for a while, 'We should really own the mobile access for our application,' " said Kitty Weldon, an analyst with Current Analysis who has been tracking the space. The only problem is that there are several companies already comfortably developing in that space which hold some strong advantages, if not the brand recognition of the larger players.

Weldon said that although SAP's BlackBerry integration is extremely tight now, the same cannot be said about its Windows Mobile efforts, and companies like Antenna and Dextera have years of experience in delivering solutions across a variety of platforms.

That cross-platform experience could be an advantage with the iPhone Software Developer Kit and mobile Linux looming on the horizon.

The second challenge is that for many mobile workers, tapping into only one database means missing out on a lot of valuable data. Weldon said it's unlikely that many enterprises are running multiple CRM platforms, but they might very well have mobile workers needing to use a different program for asset management.

David Birnback, CEO of Boston-based Vaultus, said customers don't want separate applications to tap into each one of these information sources.

"What the enterprises want is one mobile platform with one user interface that gets data from multiple places," Birnback said. "That's where the market is going."

Software from mobile platform developers can generally tap into a variety of database types, from internal CRM databases to mapping programs to the corporate SharePoint, and integrate that information into one seamless application.

That's not to say these out-of-the-box solutions won't find an audience. Weldon said she saw huge growth opportunities for the mobile application market as a whole, and RIM's recent developer fund would help kick-start native development on the BlackBerry.

RIM recently announced a $150 million fund the company will put toward investing in BlackBerry applications and services.

"To me, [SAP's mobile market] is either smaller companies or a company that lives and breathes SAP and only has BlackBerrys," Weldon said. "It seems [that] if they have a hybrid device environment, [companies] can't go with the out-of-the-box solution."

"It still surprises me that the line-of-business applications aren't really huge yet," she said. "Every year is the year [when] 'beyond email applications' are supposed to make a lot of money."

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