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With Friends Like Nokia...

On Sept. 13, when Nokia (NOK) introduced a new product for mobile e-mail, it became the latest company this year to join in an all-out assault on the dominance of Research in Motion's (RIMM) groundbreaking BlackBerry.

While e-mail software upstarts like Visto and Seven hardly make RIM blink, competition from Nokia, the world's largest maker of mobile phones, is hardly what RIM needs now. The outfit already has to contend with a growing roster of rivals that includes Microsoft (MSFT), which recently updated its Windows Mobile platform, and handset giant Motorola (MOT), maker of the ultrathin Moto Q, which boasts a BlackBerry-like keyboard.

STRANGE DICHOTOMY. Adding to the list of challenges: a bitter patent dispute with closely held NTP that threatens to undermine sales in the U.S., RIM's largest market. What's more, on Sept. 14, Eatoni Ergonomics, a New York City-based handheld software developer, said it filed a patent suit over the touch-type technology in RIM's newest device, the 7100.

Nokia's latest product also adds a wrinkle to an existing arrangement whereby Nokia licenses a version of RIM's e-mail software called Blackberry Connect for use on Nokia devices.

So while Nokia is clearly aiming for RIM's market, it's also rolling out a host of new devices aimed at corporate customers -- including the 9300 -- that RIM says it feels excited about. Chalk it up to the realities of the tech world, where companies compete and work together at the same time.

Heather Green, BusinessWeek's Internet editor, spoke with RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie on Sept. 13 to get his take on the Nokia news. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

How does Nokia's new e-mail software affect the relationship with Nokia?

Our relationship with Nokia is very good and strong. They called and gave me a full briefing on what they are doing. It's nice to see them back with a strong enterprise device.

The carriers I am talking with are interested in the 9300. Nokia has literally communicated several of tens of thousands of leads in the U.S. for a BlackBerry Connect 9300. It will be very good for Nokia and for RIM, and I think the wireless carriers will buy a lot of it.

What's your take on what Nokia is trying to do with this strategy?

They have been clear on what the positioning on this will be. It's a limited-feature, mass-volume thing. That's their strategy. It's a white label for the carriers. They are a good partner, and there are lots of segments in our space.

This white label will come out in early 2006, and it's something that other e-mail companies such as Visto and Seven have done -- provide a limited-feature, mass-market offering. They have been pretty clear to us that we're serving the market pretty well, and that the 9300 BlackBerry Connect will be a big-volume play for them.

Doesn't this also make Nokia a competitor?

The question is, where are they going to get traction on this -- with corporate customers, or carriers? Where will they position it? It lends itself to an individual in a corporation or a small group who will buy one. Not to say they won't have a great device. They have to make sure they have a down-market play.

You are very excited about the 9300. You have had other devices with Nokia and Blackberry Connect, but we never heard much about them in the U.S.

Honestly, I think the big story is that they have a hot device lineup. I am excited our relationship is so locked and loaded.

Carriers want to launch the 9300 and Blackberry Connect. We didn't have that interest with the 6800 and BlackBerry Connect. The series 60 and 80 is looking good for them. There is considerable demand for Nokia 9300 with Blackberry Connect on it. It will shoot out of the gate. We have 25 to 30 carriers who are launching or have launched it.

Nokia didn't have the product that they wanted to have in the enterprise in the last couple of years, and I think they do have the product strategy and the offerings [needed] to be a real player. The real story is, how will Nokia play against Microsoft?

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