Welcome to the BlackBerry Lifestyle
In a further sign that BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) sees the vast consumer market as key to its future success in the mobile space, Jim Balsillie,, RIM's co-CEO, touted the "BlackBerry lifestyle" in his keynote speech last week at the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment event in San Francisco, barely addressing enterprise-specific products at all.
Balsillie was referring to the company's strategy to build on its current crop of "lifestyle" applications and services, like Web mail, personal calendars, instant messaging (IM) programs, mobile social networking apps and more, which are largely aimed at its consumer users--though many could potentially be used for business purposes as well.
The CTIA event is for both businesspeople and consumers, but Balsillie spent less than five minutes of his 35-minute speech on enterprise-related products and services. In fact, the only two enterprise-specific products Balsillie touched upon were RIM's BlackBerry Mobile Voice System (MVS), which can merge traditional corporate desk phones and cellular phones; and the company's Mobile Data System (MDS), which is designed to simplify the mobile application development and deployment process for organizations.
Balsillie's main focus was on the "convergence of the four screens," as he put it--the home phone; cell phone; home computer; and the television screen. In other words, consumers will increasingly ditch land-line phones altogether and rely on mobile phones for all of their communication needs. RIM will make that transition more compelling with more consumer-oriented phone designs and social networking, IM and e-mail options. RIM also plans to boost market share by bringing a desktop-like Internet environment and home television viewing experience to mobile devices, Balsillie said. That the market is ready for such a direction is evidenced by the growing popularity of smartphones in the consumer market and of consumers hunger for phones with more and more capabilities.
"This is all doable today, and it's just getting richer and richer and richer and more and more exciting," he said.
Balsillie spoke about the various types of "messaging payloads" or types of communication methods, available via BlackBerry, that will help make RIM handhelds and other smart devices more and more essential to businesspeople and increasingly to consumers.
"In the non-enterprise market, payloads are diverse," he said.
Mobile e-mail is RIM's real strength--users can add as many as 10 different e-mail accounts, both enterprise and consumer accounts--but Balsillie also noted that BlackBerry is the only mobile platform that supports all five of major IM services--AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo, ICQ and Microsoft's Windows Live Messenger. (RIM and AOL announced new support for AIM, ICQ and AOL Mail for BlackBerry at CTIA.) Additional payloads also include peer-to-peer messaging and cellular SMS.
"All of those are growing dramatically," Balsillie said. "Probably the most exciting one is the wireless support of social networking. We're seeing it emerging in the enterprise with things like Lotus Connections, but also really strong growth in the non-enterprise environment with companies like MySpace, Flickr and Facebook."
Balsillie says the Facebook for BlackBerry application, one of the most popular BlackBerry apps, has already received more than 2.5 million downloads since its release a year ago. (For a look at Facebook for BlackBerry in action, check out our video tutorial.)
"In our world, it has been the fastest take up of any application we've ever had," Balsillie said.
RIM is also announcing another consumer-centric mobile social networking application for MySpace users at CTIA, according to Balsillie and the company expects the program to be similarly popular.
Research from ABI Research suggests Balsillie may just be right; the company expects that some 140 million people will be using mobile social networks by 2013, most of them consumers, and they'll generate more than US$410 million in associated revenue.
And Balsillie talked up the BlackBerry's multimedia capabilities, which are clearly aimed at consumers, though, again, there's room for potential crossover. The BlackBerry Media Sync application, which is currently available for free, can sync DRM-free iTunes music files with BlackBerrys, and Balsillie says a similar app to sync Windows Media Player libraries and BlackBerrys, as well as a program to sync desktop photos and video, is also coming soon.
RIM's co-CEO also sees huge potential in the idea of "remote media management," or the ability to cache media files for remote access, which he claims will come to the BlackBerry platform in the near future via a new partnership with a company called Slacker.
Finally: the home television aspect of the "four converged screens" example.
"The trickiest part of the four screens is the sync between home video content and the mobile," Balsillie said. "I believe the key enabler here is TiVo."
RIM announced a new partnership with TiVo at CTIA, and the companies plan to release an application that will enable users to users to access television content via mobile device.
"(BlackBerrys) now work with TiVo desktop software that allows you to put (TV) shows on your BlackBerry, so that you can literally have your shows as a cache."