Microsoft and Vodafone announced today that they have joined forces to launch a portable email service that intends to rival market leader Blackberry. The service will be available in the UK, France and Germany next month and comes as Blackberry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) fights the possibility of a forced shutdown in the US in a legal fight with US software business NTP, which is arguing Blackberry has breached its patents.
This is just another battle for Mike Lazaridis, former drop-out university student and founder of RIM in 1984, making billions of dollars along the way with its BlacBerry, a handheld gadget for writing and receiving secure e-mail. It swept government and business communities around the world and today is used by more than 3 million people.
The BlackBerry has become the corporate equivalent of the iPod, an ubiquitous business tool, which has pushed the company’s capitalization to over $14 billion.
But with success has come envy – and plenty of imitators. While RIM has enjoyed being the default choice for mobile email, its competition is becoming a whole lot fiercer and the move by Microsoft and Vodafone is the most serious so far.
RIM has said that it had developed a software patch that would enable it to maintain its service in the US even if it loses a forthcoming court patent ruling.
But given these storm clouds, Lazaridis, 44-yer-old teddy bear of a man, is remarkably sanguine about the threat to his company. “There’s a massive amount of work that went into the BlackBerry; the whole concept of a ‘push’ technology was different. And we built in security from the beginning. Competitors aren’t going to find that mobile email is something they can just do,”
And while competitors have still to demonstrate they can match BlackBerry’s level of security, Lazaridis has his eyes fixed on new markets. “We’ve been doing mobile email for five years now. Now we can take that further. We can connect into corporate data, access back-end systems.”
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