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RIM's partners try to capture BlackBerry's magic

Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry devices have become the BMWs of wireless e-mail. Now the company is licensing its e-mail client software to PalmSource Inc., Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, Nokia, Microsoft and others. Can these handheld makers latch onto RIM's success, but with their own devices?

Carl Zetie, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, recently published a report titled, "The Convergence of Wireless Email: BlackBerry Everywhere?" We caught up with Zetie to learn more about what to expect from the mobile e-mail gurus in Waterloo, Ontario.

What advantages does RIM give enterprises in terms of managing mobile e-mail?
RIM realized early on that you had to think about wireless e-mail as a total experience, rather than just a software application on a PDA. You need to consider the whole thing -- the hardware, the battery life, the ergonomics, the push-style delivery. The whole experience is what makes it appealing.

RIM realized early on that you had to think about wireless e-mail as a total experience, rather than just a software application on a PDA.
Carl Zetie
Forrester Research

 What about on the back end?
IT shops like the ability to manage and provision the device, and kill a device that is lost or stolen. E-mail can be made secure from the server to the device, which is not the case with other mobile e-mail applications. You mention a number of licensing deals in your report. How many third-party products that use RIM's software have been released so far?
We haven't seen any yet. It is a really big challenge for RIM to actually execute on them. It is one thing to get a vendor to say that they want a product; it is another to invest in the product and actually bring it to market. How similar will these licensed RIM applications be to the ones that run on an actual BlackBerry?
You have to bear in mind that this software will be on different hardware. Parts of the experience are bound to be different. Some PDAs have keyboards. Some, like the iPaq, don't. That changes the way you interact with the device. The challenge for licensees is to differentiate between the essential elements of the BlackBerry experience and the incidental elements. What do you think the essentials are?
It can often be something very small. For example, with a BlackBerry, users receive notification of an e-mail when it actually arrives. With other products, you get an e-mail notification, and then you have to go get the e-mail. It doesn't take much longer, but the user has the impression of having to wait to get the e-mail, whereas with [a BlackBerry], it is already there. That may sound subtle, but one of the big lessons of usability is that small things can ultimately make a big difference.

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 How much of what people like about the BlackBerry is the software and how much of it is the device?
For the early adopters, the BlackBerry was like a badge of membership in a special club. If you see someone using a Blackberry in the airport, you know that they are doing e-mail. With a Palm device, you don't necessarily know if the person is using e-mail. For some people, that is part of the appeal. It's the same thing with Apple computers. There is a kind of cultish following. I'm not saying you can't translate it, but you can't take it for granted that it will translate. You say that -- for the time being -- business will likely manage two mobile e-mail systems, one for the BlackBerry and one for other devices. What are the challenges here?
There are twice as many pieces of software, so there is twice as much work.

From a management point of view, the hardest part is deciding which category people belong in. If the CFO wants a BlackBerry, there is not a lot of room for negotiation. But you may have others who want a Blackberry when a second-tier solution would be better, or where they have to use other applications [besides e-mail], so a BlackBerry is not the best device. You just have to try to manage it.

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