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RIM taps Microsoft Bing for phone and tablet search

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Microsoft's Bing has been crowned the default search and maps provider for Research in Motion's smartphones as well as the Playbook, RIM's answer to the Jobsian iPad.

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer took the stage at RIM's BlackBerry World conference on Tuesday morning in Orlando, Florida to announce the partnership.

"We're going to invest uniquely into the BlackBerry platform," Ballmer said according to bloggers covering the event. "Bing will become the default search provider in the browser and maps" on BlackBerry devices.

Details were scarce, and neither Microsoft nor RIM's spokespeople provided details on how the technologies or the companies might work together.

"Central to this collaboration, BlackBerry devices will use Bing as the preferred search provider in the browser, and Bing will be the default search and map application for new devices presented to mobile operators, both in the United States and internationally," Bing director Matt Dahlin wrote. "Also, effective today Bing will be the preferred search and maps applications with regular, featured placement and promotion in the BlackBerry App World carousel."

Dhalin said Bing is also now shipping as the default search engine and map app for the newly released BlackBerry Playbook.

According to a RIM blog, Bing will be “deeply integrated” into the BlackBerry experience starting this holiday season.

The presence of Ballmer on stage at RIM's event left bloggers and observers covering the conference stunned. But the deal he announced is typical stuff for Microsoft. In the past, it has forged similar relationships with PC makers, smartphone makers, and service providers over Internet-Explorer, pre-Bing search, and MSN.

Bing is currently the default search engine on Samsung's Fascinate from Verizon Wireless, while earlier in 2002, Microsoft signed Verizon Online to deliver email, IM, and news from MSN. It has also struck deals putting MSN and IE on PCs from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and others.

Such deals mean Microsoft can slide its software under the fingers of millions of ordinary users who won't care or know how to change their settings. These users will just click away, providing those all important search ad dollars.

Recently, Microsoft has offered Bing as an option that smartphone and tablet users can download, having released versions of Bing for Android and Apple's iOS. But this arrangement requires the user to make the choice themselves.

Google is Microsoft's major concern when it comes to the RIM deal, not just on search and advertising but also on operating systems. Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 competes against BlackBerry phones while the planned Windows-8-based tablet will butt heads against RIM's PlayBook, running the QNX Neutrino kernel acquired through its QNX Software Systems buy in 2010. But in the context of Google, it makes sense for Microsoft to partner with the competition.

It's easy to dismiss Microsoft and RIM in the smartphones and tablet markets. Microsoft's love-in with Nokia, putting Windows Phone 7 on Nokia handsets by 2012, has been derided about as much as the PlayBook. Nokia is losing market share, and RIM is too. Both are trailing the iPhone, and are projected to lose out even more to Android by 2015.

If – and it's a big if – Nokia and RIM can at least level out, then Microsoft will succeed in flanking Google on mobile search, and it can add up two separate blocks of market share.

The final twist? Internet Explorer 10 for mobile. Terms of Microsoft’s deal have not been announced, but you can expect that RIM's Bing agreement includes a clause that IE10 either becomes the default browser on its phones and tablets or gets some sort of higher billing.

Blackberry smartphones use RIM’s own WebKit-based browser, which also runs on PlayBook.

The first IE10 mobile beta is expected in September, and it will be the first version of Microsoft's browser to use the same code base and rendering engine as the PC version. Use of IE has been falling, so Microsoft will be looking for every opportunity for growth, and mobile provides the best opportunity given smartphones are now outselling PCs and will continue to outsell them. ®

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