Microsoft’s Push into Push Email

Microsoft’s not happy with its dominant position in the operating system and software market. Just look back to the Xbox. They felt the need to enter a field that had been dominated by Sony and Nintendo. Last year, they announced that they were interested in an iPod competitor, but also hinting that it would be more than just an MP3 player, with the ability to play games, and videos. People poopooed the idea of an Xbox portable, a la PSP. And early this year, at the 3GSM convention in Barcelona, Spain, Microsoft named its next target, the push email market.

You’ll probably know the company that is the biggest player in this market, Research in Motion. Located in good old Waterloo, Ontario, RIM is the maker of the Blackberry and the software that makes it work. ‘Push’ email allows a user to receive emails on their devices when they enter a wireless coverage zone without having to manually access the email server. When the user has the device switched off or running outside the appropriate area, emails will be stored on a central server until they can be ‘pushed’ to your device. Additionally, with the inclusion of either a full QWERTY keypad or a semi-shared keypad on the more cellphone-like Blackberries, users can easily and quickly fire off a response.

The technology itself is quite simple and several competitors have tried to dethrone but it hasn’t yet happened. Why is that? Research in Motion has only somewhere between 4 and 5 million subscribers to its service. Yet, Microsoft is predicting that nearly a billion people will be in the target market for this technology by the end of the decade. So why have these competitors not been able to capitalize and how will Microsoft’s ‘push’ be any different?

The Blackberry is amicably named the ‘Crackberry’ by many people as well as users. They’ll joke that it’s only a small addiction and life would definitely still be possible without it, but if you were to try and take it away, I’d definitely have some sort of protection on. So what makes the Blackberry so likeable? Think iPod. Why is the iPod so popular? It’s not the most feature-filled piece of gadgetry. Based on specifications alone, you wouldn’t expect anything extraordinary from it. Yet, it still manages to take a huge amount of the market share because it just works. It’s much the same with the Blackberry. Who wants to fiddle around through menu systems to get what they want, emails? It’s also a sort of icon of status for management and executive types. When you pull out a Blackberry, it seems as though your importance level automatically increases several notches. Just like the iPod is the thing to have amongst teens and young adults, the Blackberry is the thing to have for executives and VIPs.

Take a look at the ongoing patent lawsuit between Research in Motion and NTP, an American holding company. Even if an injunction is placed against Blackberry service and hardware in the US, provisions will be made for government officials to continue using their Blackberries. Yes, the government stepped in on this issue of all things. The Blackberries must continue to work! And guess how many government officials use the Blackberry service? There are approximately 3 million users in the United States. Roughly one-third of those would be exempt from the injunction. That’s a lot of government.

How does Microsoft change the scene? It already has it Exchange Server software that does much the same thing as the Blackberry email service. It’s got a lot more muscle in the tech industry than someone like Research in Motion has. Already, Vodafone, Orange, Cingular and T-Mobile have announced that they will provide free upgrades for Microsoft’s implementation of push email. With the smartphone taking up more and more of the wireless market, it’s definitely possible that Research in Motion will be surpassed in the wireless email market. But this is assuming one thing: that it just works. Most users don’t want to be inundated with a bazillion features. They want something that is intuitive and works reliably. So far nothing has been able to touch the Blackberry in these departments. And RIM is not standing still. While this NTP lawsuit has caused it some headaches, the CEO of RIM, Lazaridis recently said that he sees very strong growth going forward despite the ongoing lawsuit (…number of BlackBerry customers rose by 100% last year and he sees “no reason why growth should not continue at the same rate”). But the scent of blood is in the air and the competition is eager.

With Nokia already supporting the Blackberry Connect service on its Symbian smartphones and Palm also going in this direction, it looks as though it’ll be a battle between the OS juggernaut and the maker of the Crackberry. The prize is the better part of a billion customers.

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