Microsoft's investment in putting its Bing search and maps in BlackBerry mobile devices by the fall holiday season pits Research In Motion and Microsoft against Google in a massive scramble for mobile search customers.
Analysts speculated that Microsoft, which recently made a billion-dollar-plus investment in Nokia, is probably also paying RIM "boatloads" for the partnership deal, although Microsoft would not reveal any terms.
Immediately, several analysts noted the importance of the move, given the growth in smartphones and the use of mobile search in advertising and location-based purchasing.
"This shows that the battle for mobile search is on," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner and a Computerworld columnist, in an email.
"Ballmer's presence at BlackBerry World is a great example of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend,' " Gartenberg said. "Google indeed is the enemy in this case."
Ballmer said that Bing would become the default search provider in the browser and maps on BlackBerry devices, adding, "I've never been more excited about where our future is going."
The news was such a surprise that analysts attending BlackBerry World said RIM officials couldn't immediately explain any of the details to them.
A Microsoft spokeswoman clarified in an email to Computerworld that Microsoft and RIM announced a partnership to "make Bing the preferred search and maps provider on all new BlackBerry devices ... starting this holiday season." She said Bing will be the search default for the BlackBerry browser and the default search and maps provider on new RIM devices that are "presented to mobile operators in the U.S. and select international markets."
Asked to clarify the difference between being the "default" vs. "preferred" provider, the Microsoft spokeswoman said that Bing would be the default search and maps provider on new RIM devices when they are presented to carriers but that "the carrier can change the default," which means Bing is still preferred by RIM but customers will have other choices for mobile search.
Kevin Burden, an analyst at ABI Research, said that while Bing will be the preferred search engine on BlackBerry devices, Bing will not be the only search and mapping tool available on those phones. "The companies are saying they will put more emphasis on Bing and that it works better than Google," Burden said.
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