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RIM Rivals Gear Up

To date, RIM has dominated the industry, both in software and hardware. But the competition seems to have stepped up in recent months with a string of moves by its rivals.

In September, for instance, Nokia debuted a new wireless email service targeted at business customers. Microsoft recently rolled out an update to its popular Exchange email server that allows the software to "push" email to customers' wireless devices. And in September, Palm, maker of the trendy Treo smartphone, announced a new version of the device that will run Microsoft's mobile operating system and tie into software giant's email service.

RIM, however, hasn't been sitting still. The company has moved to blunt the competitive threat in part by promoting its growing ties with other handset makers. Last month, for instance, it announced its own deal to allow Palm's Treo to connect with RIM's BlackBerry email servers. And both Nokia and Sony Ericsson have rolled out new devices in recent months that will connect to RIM's service.

But the problem for RIM in the marketplace is that its dominance may be challenged by a closing technology gap, says Schamens, who says he doubts that Intellisync's technology is the future, but that one of RIM's competitors clearly is.

"I think somebody is going to come out with a better mousetrap, and it will work just as well as RIM's," he says. "With the way technology moves [the BlackBerry system] is not going be special anymore."

A RIM representative did not return a call seeking comment.

But others see a more limited threat. Nokia's deal with Intellisync could definitely increase the competition for RIM with consumer and smaller and medium-sized business customers, says one buy-side analyst who asked not to be named. But it's unlikely to supplant RIM in the enterprise market, he says.

RIM is fairly entrenched with those enterprise-class customers, and for now, the BlackBerry service is generally easier for those customers than those of its competitors, because they typically have to deal with fewer vendors, says the analyst, whose firm is long Microsoft and Nokia.

Other analysts saw even less risk from the Intellisync deal. The company has had some traction with consumer and "prosumer" customers and has a relationship with Nokia, noted Rob Sanderson, an analyst with American Technology Research. But the company seems to have little presence in the enterprise sphere, particularly in delivering wireless email, he said.

"Bears are almost certain to call this a 'landscape changing' event and that RIM's days are numbered, although we could not disagree more," says Sanderson, a longtime bull on RIM, whose firm does not do investment banking. "We believe the selloff in RIMM shares is a misread by the market and would be buyers of weakness."
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