Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took to the stage at the BlackBerry World Conference today to announce a partnership with Canada’s RIM, bringing MS tech to key parts of the BlackBerry smartphone experience. Specifically, Bing will now be the default search engine in BlackBerry’s browser (much as Google is on the iPhone), and Bing Maps will be the default location-search system.
Seemingly small tweaks like this are actually not insignificant, because most users are lazy–they won’t really dig into their phone’s settings to adjust what’s already been pre-set. If Bing is the default search system and map tech, then Bing will get the benefit of millions of new, default users via future RIM sales (propped up by the new OS and the new PlayBook tablet, one of which was given to all participants at BBWC, adding 6,000 units to the sales figures). Naturally, Microsoft will benefit from income via ads served up on Bing.
Microsoft has all but fallen out of the smartphone business thanks to an inflexible attitude to updating Windows in a touchscreen-centric era and a number of other issues. It’s desperately trying to get back into the game with its Window Phone 7 system, which hasn’t had a great start so far. A recent partnership with Nokia may boost the fortunes of both companies, although nobody knows by how much.
So Microsoft seems to be trying a new strategy here. With the Bing-RIM partnership, Microsoft says it will be investing “uniquely” in BlackBerry services. And yet, news of the odd coupling is falling flat.
Excitement about changes like these makes sense when you’re talking about Apple, which is almost single-handedly defining the touchscreen smartphone paradigm, or Google, which is having great success with Android. When it comes to RIM, however, you’re talking about the strategies of a fallen smartphone giant and a company that just admitted it dropped the ball by focusing too tightly on narrow goals.
Via partner companies, Microsoft still sells smartphones running older Windows Mobile code that needs ActiveSync to manage via desktop PCs. There’s a bunch of existing Windows Phone 7 devices, and soon Nokia-branded ones will emerge that may have unique co-developed services. Now Bing is powering parts of BlackBerry’s user experience…but RIM is also partnering with Android to run Android apps on the BlackBerry platform. And RIM is in direct competition with MS’s own Windows Phone 7 plans. It’s a huge ball of spaghetti in sauce. Delicious, if you’re into the to-and-fro of the tech world, but otherwise just very tangled and messy. Above all this mess, Apple sails serene with a successful tablet and smartphone strategy that shows no sign of flagging.