Tuesday, 3 March 2009

RIM and Nokia into the netbook market

Nokia seems to be plotting entry into the netbook space with a range of Symbian-based devices. RIM, meanwhile, has demonstrated more modest yet substantive ambitions in its plans announced so far. Rather than getting into the hardware market it is focusing on putting BlackBerry functionality onto devices, specifically Lenovo ThinkPads. It uses an Express Card to hook up via Bluetooth to the BlackBerry, synchronising mail to the laptop, even if the laptop is off. This is a fairly modest entry into the laptop space, but I suspect it is just a case of testing the water. Historically RIM's success has been tied to end-to-end management of the user experience. So a BlackBerry netbook is surely not far away.

The appeal of getting into the laptop space is obvious.
  • The growth of PC mobility. Do I really need to go over the stellar growth of mobile broadband and the anticipated continuing growth? Not to readers of this blog surely?

  • Device convergence looks to be occuring from both directions. So rather than just focusing on the increasingly smart handsets, it's natural to also focus on increasingly connectivity-oriented (dumb, arguably) PCs, in the form of netbooks. Will they ever meet in the middle? I doubt it. There is a fundamental shift between a mobile device and a portable device and you can't be optimised for both. Anything in the middle ends up being as successful as the Spork. Actually I may be being a little unfair to the spork, which graces countless prepacked salads and camping kits around the world.

  • Keeping up with the Joneses. Other OSes look set to bridge the gap between handset and PC and provide a seamless user experience. Windows Mobile 6.5 is a huge leap forward for Microsoft in bringing Windows to the smartphone. It still demonstrates very little joined up thinking in terms of linking up the various platforms, but that will come with version 7 I'm sure. Similarly Google will doubtless be looking to transport Android onto PCs. In this environment, Symbian's lack of PC pedigree would stand it in poor shape.
Clearly some adaptation would be required to shift Symbian or BlackBerry OS into the PC space. In the case of BlackBerry the logical option would be to partner to run BlackBerry functionality on existing OSes on a BlackBerry branded device, rather than attempting the heavy lifting required to develop a PC version of BlackBerry OS. Nokia probably does have both the brand and the scale to make a success of the netbook.
EDIT: I forgot to mention in the initial post that I will be publishing a new report looking at mobile broadband devices "Mobile broadband devices: from USB modems to where?" in April.

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