RIM Strikes Microsoft Partnership, to Debut PlayBook ‘Very Soon’

Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM) is teaming up with Microsoft Corp. to handle the growing amount of data its customers are using on mobile devices and plans to release its BlackBerry PlayBook tablet computer “very soon.”

RIM is looking for ways to enhance the PlayBook’s appeal as it prepares to challenge Apple Inc. (AAPL) in the tablet market. Apple, which sold 7.33 million iPads last quarter, has said more than 65 percent of the Fortune 100 companies are testing or deploying the iPad, including Procter & Gamble Co. (PG), Lowe’s Cos. and Hyatt Hotels Corp. (H)

RIM has shown the PlayBook to a “significant” portion of Fortune 100 companies and interest in the device is “very high,” Jim Tobin, senior vice president, software and business services, said in an interview today in Toronto.

The partnership with Microsoft is designed to make it easier for customers to use what’s known as cloud computing, or servers offsite that store information and can be accessed over the Internet. Tobin said he sees about a quarter of RIM’s large corporate customers shifting data into the cloud by the end of this year, with half having made the shift by 2012.

Data stored in the cloud currently represents about 5 percent of the $1.5 trillion in corporate information technology spending last year, according to industry data supplied by IDC and Gartner Inc.

“It’s a more efficient model for everyone,” Tobin said. “As the smartphone starts to handle more of the work effort versus a desktop, and now you add the tablet, that’s the time” to move away from storing information on computer hard drives and local servers.

Trading Barbs

He declined to give any estimate of how much money the shift will save RIM or its customers.

RIM plans to introduce the PlayBook this month or in early April, co-Chief Executive Officer Jim Balsillie said last month. Tobin declined to elaborate other than saying it will be very soon. Apple’s iPad went on sale in April 2010 and the company has since sold over 15 million of the devices.

RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, fell $1.25, or 2.1 percent, to $59.84 at 4 p.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock has climbed 24 percent since the PlayBook was unveiled Sept. 27.

With the PlayBook yet to appear in stores, consumers have been buying the iPad and tablets like Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc.’s Xoom, which went on sale last month. Both have screens that measure about 10 inches (25 centimeters), compared to the PlayBook’s smaller 7-inch screen. Balsillie and Apple CEO Steve Jobs exchanged barbs late last year after Jobs said smaller tablets are “dead on arrival” because they are too small to compete with the iPad.

“One other tablet is making some inroads and lots of noise,” said Tobin. “The PlayBook is the only other relevant game for enterprises right now, and for enterprises that have embraced BlackBerry, it’s a natural game to jump on that bandwagon really quickly.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Hugo Miller in Toronto at hugomiller@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net

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