Phones

Can RIM's Cloud Push Recapture BlackBerry Magic?

RIMs BlackBerry has been steadily losing share in the smart phone market, but RIM hopes it could use the cloud computing space to offer something new and exciting like it did when it came out with its then-revolutionary push e-mail service over a decade ago.

During a presentation that Alec Taylor, vice president, software, services and enterprise marketing for RIM gave Thursday, cloud applications have become "core to RIM's strategy." Taylor also claimed that RIM is "positioned to lead in mobile cloud services."

As part of its push into the cloud, RIM said it has formed a partnership with Microsoft to offer Office 365 Web-based office applications, which include SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync. RIM said BlackBerry and soon-to-be launched Playbook tablet customers will be able to use Microsoft Office 365 over the cloud free of charge in the middle of the year.

RIM says its announcement with Microsoft represents one example of many new cloud services it will offer its users. But corporate posturing aside, what does RIM's push into the cloud mean for the small business user? That mostly remains to be seen, but I know what I would like to see.

A major peeve I have always had with my BlackBerry, as well as with any other kind of Android, iPhone, or smart phone device for that matter, is how hard it is to share data with workstations, whether tethered directly to a PC or to a LAN. Sure, you can use BlackBerry's sync software to share data with PCs, but it is clunky, to say the least. Being able to use a BlackBerry or RIM's upcoming Playbook to seamlessly share data and access applications over the cloud with different PCs and devices as easily as you can between PCs on a LAN could make RIM's devices exciting again.

I also would love one day to be able to use a BlackBerry for all of my computing tasks over the cloud, whether for storage, office, or any other application. That way, I could work anywhere and everywhere with nothing but my mobile device.

But for a variety of reasons--not least of which are unresolved security concerns--the real role the cloud will play in the future of computing has yet to be determined and does not depend much on RIM.

RIM's Microsoft announcement is hardly earth-shattering, as the company will likely never capture the magic again like it did when it captivated the business world with its first BlackBerry devices. RIM will also face stiff competition in the mobile space from Google, Android, and the search giant's cloud services. At least RIM's announcement that it will offer Microsoft's cloud-based office applications is a step in the right direction. RIM also says there is a lot more to come, but only the future will tell how successful it will be.

Bruce covers tech trends in the United States and Europe and tweets at @brucegain.

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