Rumors of Research In Motion possibly turning away from its BlackBerry 10 operating system and adopting Windows Phone 8 have us thinking. If RIM and Microsoft combined the might of their mobile operating systems, what would the Frankenstein-like device look like and how would it function?
There are three things to consider when thinking about a BlackBerry Windows Phone. Foremost, the features and user interface of Windows Phone would be central to the experience. Second, there would be the functionality and security of BlackBerry messaging and the proprietary network. Third, the misnomer in the equation - the fact that Nokia has developed a variety of features for its Lumia Windows Phone that Microsoft has adopted for the entire mobile platform.
So, a BlackBerry Windows Phone is not just about Microsoft and RIM. It would be a true "Frankenphone" built from the charred remains of three once-dominant players in the mobile ecosystem.
This, of course, is a speculative exercise. But if the current trends continue and RIM is forced into the hands of Microsoft, the reality of such a device is not completely far-fetched.
What Research In Motion Offers
BlackBerry’s Strengths: Messaging, security and the potential for physical QWERTY keyboards.
RIM’s proprietary network, which runs its secure messaging service, is still considered one of the best in the industry. Despite some costly outages in Fall 2011, the BlackBerry network has been relied upon by business users and consumers for years. Microsoft would love nothing more than to tap into the BlackBerry Enterprise Server ecosystem in enterprises where it already has a robust Windows presence.
For a Blackberry Windows Phone, Microsoft and RIM would be building strength-upon-strength with both of the companies’ enterprise services. While it may not lead to consumer success, it is imaginable that a host of CIOs managing large enterprise IT departments would jump on the chance to use two trusted brands that already have infrastructures in place at their companies.
There are a number of things that would need to be reconciled between RIM and Microsoft, because the two companies do have overlapping products. For instance, which company controls email? Microsoft has one of the largest email infrastructures in the industry, while BlackBerry’s network offers security. An integration between the two would not seem too outrageous, though, as BlackBerry has long supported Microsoft’s Outlook email product. Microsoft would likely have to cede messaging to BlackBerry Messenger because the product is still one of RIM’s core strengths, and unless Microsoft buys RIM outright, the BlackBerry maker would likely insist that Messenger be integrated into its Windows Phones. That would be a net win for consumers that get BBM on Windows Phones, an upgrade over Microsoft’s existing chat products.
Then there is the notion of a physical keyboard. To this point, there are few Windows Phones that have physical keyboards (the LG Quantum offers a slideout horiztonal QWERTY keyboard). Consumers like touchscreen devices, such as Apple’s iPhone and Android, but many of the BlackBerry faithful hold onto their old devices for love of the physical keyboard. For RIM, it would likely have to work both ways. In its current BlackBerry 10 plans, it looks to deploy two smartphones early in 2013, one with a keyboard and one with a touchscreen. In any partnerships with Microsoft, two BlackBerry Windows Phones would have to be created to please consumers that want a physical keyboard and/or a touchscreen.
What Microsoft Offers
Windows Phone Strengths: User experience and interface through its Hubs and Tiles, gaming integration, Windows Phone Marketplace, support services.
One of the reasons that RIM has fallen so far behind is that its user interface on BlackBerry OS devices has been woefully lacking. When Microsoft ditched Windows Mobile CE and started building Windows Phone from its remains, the user interface was the first place it knew it could differentiate from Android and iOS. Any BlackBerry Windows Phone would need to adopt the Hubs and Tiles interface. That would be a win for BlackBerry users who have been stuck in the old-looking BlackBerry design for half a decade.
Microsoft can also offer superior gaming to BlackBerry. As Windows Phone continues to evolve, we will likely see more Xbox integration into the platform for more dynamic mobile games. As we have seen during the past couple of years, robust application ecosystems drive sales of mobile devices. Apple had a head start with its App Store, and the “there’s an app for that” marketing campaign is partly responsible for iPhone sales. In turn, games are the largest single application category with the most potential for viral hits (see: Angry Birds, Words With Friends, etc.) The Windows Phone Marketplace is nowhere near the level of either the App Store or Google Play, but it has a special chip with the Xbox ecosystem that would benefit the BlackBerry platform.
Regardless of the numbers that RIM touts about its BlackBerry App World, the Windows Phone Marketplace is growing faster and attracting higher-end publishers. If the two companies had to make a compromise on which application store to standardize on, the Windows Phone Marketplace would have to take precedence.
Microsoft is also known for how well it supports both its developers and enterprise customers. The ability to combine Microsoft’s enterprise support and infrastructure (such as cloud services), in addition to BlackBerry’s network, could be a powerful mix.
What Nokia Offers
Nokia’s Strengths: Hardware design, maps and consumer services, international market.
The biggest question for a BlackBerry Windows Phone: What company builds it? Microsoft has a plethora of third-party manufacturers that would be happy to put it together, or RIM could build the device itself.
The best answer to that question, though, has to be Nokia. Pound for pound, Nokia is the best manufacturer that Microsoft could line up for any mobile product and, considering RIM’s recent track record for devices, outclasses the Canadian smartphone maker by a mile. The logistics of Nokia building a BlackBerry Windows Phone are tricky, as RIM still possesses its own manufacturing facilities and would probably like to be involved in the creation of the hardware. It is within reason that RIM could supply parts to Nokia (such as physical keyboards) and the Finnish manufacturer could pull the entire project together.
Nokia has also been developing software for Windows Phone, such as navigation and mapping technology, that can be found in most devices running on the platform. Outside of hardware, Nokia still has resources and services that it could provide to such a project.
The Bottom Line
You take three companies with rich traditions in innovation and technology, combine their best features and release a “super phone” with the ability to automatically rise to the top of the market. What could go wrong?
Plenty. Competition from Apple and Android could push a BlackBerry Windows Phone into the periphery of the mobile carriers' marketing strategies, or a partnership of such a magnitude could prove to be too problematic for the players involved.
Would you buy a BlackBerry Windows Phone? What do you think would be the best feature? Let us know in the comments.