RIM and Microsoft: Dance of the Zombies

Microsoft plus Research in Motion equals what? Not much. The alliance of the two losers in the mobile computing race reeks of desperation and leaves me with an overwhelming sense of "so what?"

Microsoft will likely gain some search engine share for Bing, which alone probably justifies the expense. But RIM will gain nothing other than more cash to burn through. The partnership changes nothing: RIM is in desperate trouble, and it's becoming clearer every day that iOS -- not Android and certainly not BlackBerry (if you can even call it a platform) or Hewlett-Packard's WebOS -- is the winning mobile platform.

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The tablet market is following the pattern set by the iPod, not the PC, says Rob Enderle, a veteran technology analyst. Indeed, the conditions that led to the dominance of Microsoft in the 1980s were unique and won't be repeated. "For it to break the other way, you need a major player like IBM was for the PC to move against Apple, and we don't really have anyone at that scale," he says.

"If all of the Android folks got on the same page with apps and content and there was some unique compelling content, I think this might end up that [1980s] way again [with Android becoming the Windows of mobile], but the Android folks clearly don't want to cooperate with each other, and Google isn't showing any ability to control themselves let alone their licensees," says Enderle, who runs his own analyst shop, the Enderle Group.

The iPod showed the way
The key factor in the PC market back in the 1980s was the development of a standardized platform, driven by IBM's decision to back Microsoft and DOS for its PC. Business appreciated the idea of being able to buy PCs that looked alike and performed alike from their choice of vendors, all of whom competed on price.

Apple, meanwhile, locked down its platform and kept prices relatively high. It arguably produced the better products, but that didn't matter. Although Apple made enough money to survive, it remained a niche player for years. Along the way, other vendors of proprietary systems such as Commodore failed and disappeared.

Contrast that with the dominance of the iPod, says Enderle. As with PCs, the market for personal music players (originally defined as MP3 players) started with a bunch of proprietary candidates. But, he argues, there was no business market to drive sales of a standardized product and no player with the stature of an IBM.

Apple came into the market late, but it outmaneuvered every other player. Key points in its dominance were vertical integration that included content, towering mind share (all other products were compared to the iPod), and -- most relevant -- decreasing the use of common standards, including a proprietary file system and connectors.

Doesn't all of that sound strikingly similar to the tablet market? It also resembles the smartphone market, although the issue of carriers complicates the mobile market a bit.

Oracle makes a telling move
We here at InfoWorld.com have talked a lot about the consumerization of IT, and if you needed more proof of the way that wind is blowing, note Oracle's announcement on Tuesday that it has introduced support for Apple's iPad and iPhone as part of a slew of enhancements to its business intelligence software. Say what you will about Oracle, but there aren't many software companies more firmly rooted in the enterprise.

Sure, RIM's BlackBerry is an iconic business-oriented product, but in many ways it's so, well, 1990s. "CIOs who are staying with RIM think that email is the killer app," says analyst Trip Chowdhry of Global Equities Research. It isn't, of course. (And isn't it ironic that RIM's PlayBook tablet doesn't even have email unless it's tethered to a BlackBerry?)

Apps and enterprise connectivity are where forward-looking CIOs are placing their bets. Oracle's move, says Chowdhry, shows the need for a broad platform, most likely Apple's iOS. "Android is still a work in progress. With Apple, there's one throat to choke, and it's seen as a safer bet." Don't underestimate that "single throat to choke" impulse in IT: As the role of IT grew in the 1990s and 2000s, companies were overwhelmed with integration hassles from the initial "best of breed" strategy and soon started shifting to using as few sources as possible, becoming Microsoft shops, IBM shops, SAP shops, Oracle shops, and the like. For mobile, it makes sense for them to become -- despite how that sounds to most IT people -- Apple shops.

Then there's the app market. Apple is poised to own three-quarters of the $3.8 billion mobile application market this year, according to research company IHS Screen Digest, and it will continue to own as much as 60 percent of that sumptuous pie through 2014.

Note that market share number. Over the years, the only software company that controlled a share like that of the PC market was ... Microsoft. That's yet another reason why the prospects of Apple's rival in the mobile arena seem so bleak.

Chowdhry won't go as far as some of my colleagues in predicting the death of RIM, but in our conversation he damned it with very faint praise, comparing it to the mainframe. I think that's fair: Mainframes still pull in revenue, but they are far from the cutting edge of technology. RIM will stagger around like a zombie for some time, but its real importance is a relic of the past. Teaming up with the relic that Microsoft itself is fast becoming won't change that.

I welcome your comments, tips, and suggestions. Post them here so that all our readers can share them, or reach me at bill.snyder@sbcglobal.net. Follow me on Twitter at BSnyderSF.

This article, "RIM and Microsoft: Dance of the zombies," was originally published by InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bill Snyder's Tech's Bottom Line blog and follow the latest technology business developments at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

This story, "RIM and Microsoft: Dance of the Zombies" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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