Consumer confidence growing at RIM

During Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie's keynote appearance at last week's CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment event in San Francisco, you heard about the firm's dominance in the smartphone segment, its newest BlackBerry devices and a series of significant new content and services partnerships. What you didn't hear about was the enterprise market, the subscriber demographic so long synonymous with the BlackBerry platform--in fact, RIM's growing profile as a consumer brand was the central theme of Balsillie's speech, illustrating the true scope of the company's vision for smartphone dominance. By sheer coincidence Balsillie's CTIA appearance followed days after technology research firm IDC reported that BlackBerry devices now account for nearly 54 percent of overall U.S. smartphone market share, coinciding with second-quarter losses by rivals Apple and Palm, but the timing couldn't have been better: RIM is making far greater inroads into the consumer space than its opponents are making into the enterprise segment.

A year ago at CTIA Wireless IT 2007, Balsillie's co-CEO Mike Lazaridus took the keynote spotlight to announce Facebook for BlackBerry Smartphones, a mobile social networking software application that effectively crystallized the Facebook platform as an enterprise networking tool. This time around, Balsillie touted a similar deal with MySpace, further positioning BlackBerry as a device blurring the line between the consumer and enterprise spaces. MySpace for BlackBerry, launching in October, integrates MySpace's primary social networking components (e.g., messaging, status and mood updates, and photo management) with the BlackBerry platform to provide instant, push-based messaging to BlackBerry and MySpace users. RIM also will introduce a BlackBerry community page on MySpace for users to access the latest BlackBerry smartphone news, content, videos, games, ringtones, skins and related features. Balsillie cited a recent eMarketer forecast that anticipates more than 800 million people worldwide will access social networks via mobile devices by 2012, up from 82 million in 2007. "When you change access to information, you change your relationship to it," he said.

Balsillie also announced a new partnership with Microsoft to launch Live Search optimized for the BlackBerry platform, as well as an agreement with digital video recording solutions provider TiVo to introduce customized wireless TiVo services. The deal with TiVo will enable BlackBerry users to wirelessly browse television schedule guides and program recordings--according to Balsillie, the two firms plan to eventually introduce software applications that further expand mobile access to video content, including caching programming directly on the device. "It's important to create an environment where you support diverse [services]," Balsillie said. "We're now seeing a convergence of the four screens--your cell phone, your home phone, your home Internet and your home content." Conspicuous by its absence in this convergence is your office content and information, which poses an intriguing question: Just how big a role does the enterprise play in RIM's future, anyway? Is its leadership in the market so assured that the firm can shift its focus this far away from its bread and butter--or is its vision for mobile so fully integrated that distinctions like "consumer" and "enterprise" are about to become irrelevant? -Jason