Yes, RIM, That's a Bull's-eye On Your Back
By Carlo Longino, Tue Mar 22 23:45:00 GMT 2005

Following a separate deal with Nokia announced at 3GSM, Symbian said today it had licensed Microsoft Exchange Server ActiveSync. Some may see it as a vote of no confidence in Microsoft's own mobile devices; but this announcement has less to do with mobile phones than it does e-mail servers.

"Microsoft and Symbian call off rivalry"... Symbian and Microsoft "have called a truce"... the cliches are flying thick and fast today after Symbian said it licensed the ActiveSync protocol necessary to give phones running its OS the ability to sync over-the-air with Exchange 2003 servers for e-mail and PIM data. But like the previous similar deal with Nokia, this doesn't mean the ice is melting -- Microsoft (like most companies) doesn't do anything to be friendly.

One of the clear exclusive advantages of Windows Mobile devices was that they alone could remotely access Exchange servers without additional hardware -- like a BlackBerry server. It was part of the virtuous cycle designed to enhance sales of Windows Mobile handsets, as well as boost server sales and revenues from related client licenses. But RIM threw a wrench in the works, with the BlackBerry becoming the de facto standard for mobile corporate e-mail. The success of the devices now not only threatens Microsoft-powered mobile devices, but also Exchange server sales -- the thinking being companies' loyalty has shifted to their BlackBerry systems, not the underlying Exchange server.

Symbian, of course, just wants its devices to be able to access as many different types of servers as it can to give it more enterprise penetration. Support for Good, BlackBerry and OMA systems already exist, and anything else that comes along that potential corporate customers are using will likely be supported too. In the short term, though, the deal could shift some momentum to Symbian from users who felt their only choice was to buy an MS-powered device.

Shares of RIM stock, predictably, fell as investors feared how it would hurt sales. But most of those fears are probably unwarranted, as there's more than simple availability at play here. RIM's not going to lose just because Symbian devices will be able to get e-mail from sync servers, just like it's thrived in the face of the availability of MS-powered devices. More key to the BlackBerry's success than its functionality is its user experience.

Even in the days when BlackBerrys ran on Mobitex networks and had 3-line displays, they still offered a fantastic user experience. As the devices' specs have improved, users are still wowed -- the thing didn't get the CrackBerry nickname by accident. It's addictive because it works well, and because it's easy to use.

A Microsoft mobile exec told the Wall Street Journal the company "will continue to compete with Symbian on the user experience" of mobile devices. But it's the BlackBerry user experience that poses the biggest threat to Microsoft -- both in mobile devices and in server licenses.