Can Adobe, Microsoft, and Facebook deals help revive BlackBerry?

The opening keynote of BlackBerry World 2011 focused on three key partnerships in lieu of any big announcements about smartphones or tablets.

With its tablet platform on hold waiting for more apps and its smartphone platform on hold until its next-gen operating system is ready, Research in Motion primarily used its opening keynote at BlackBerry World 2011 in Orlando to play up three big partners who are pledging long-term support for BlackBerry smartphones -- Adobe, Microsoft, and Facebook.

Adobe and RIM talked about the hard work their teams did to produce a "flawless" Flash experience -- and it is definitely one of the best features of the PlayBook and superior to the Flash implementation on Android. Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen said, "We're really impressed, frankly, at what the teams have been able to do together. Flash Player on the PlayBook truly allows consumers to take advantage of rich Web content."

However, the most important thing Adobe talked about was what it is doing to help RIM bring more apps to the PlayBook. Narayen revealed that most of the 3,000 tablet apps in BlackBerry App World are built on Adobe AIR and he announced that Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 was launching on Tuesday and that it natively includes tools for building Adobe AIR apps for the PlayBook using Flash Builder. He also stated that Adobe plans to bring their "creative applications" to the PlayBook. I think we can safely assume that includes a tablet version of Photoshop, similar to what Adobe has already done for the iPad.

Next, RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis surprised the crowd by bringing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on stage. There was a momentary tension that swept through the crowd as everyone seemed to be wondering if Microsoft was buying RIM or if RIM was going to start loading Windows Phone 7 on its BlackBerry devices like Nokia has decided to do.

Ballmer quickly put those fears to rest when he said, "We're going to invest uniquely in the BlackBerry platform, in addition to our own platform... Effective today, Bing will become the official search and map application for BlackBerry."

Ballmer watches Bing demo at BlackBerry World 2011. Photo credit: Jason Hiner

After talking up Bing's capabilities and showing a corny video, Ballmer stressed that the future will bring a lot more cool stuff with Bing on BlackBerry including augmented reality services (combining visual search, GPS, and mapping) that will respect privacy and security.

"We're super committed to innovate with Bing and BlackBerry," Ballmer said.

After stating this was his first trip to BlackBerry World -- the conference is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year -- Ballmer closed by saying, "We'll be back." That makes it sound like RIM and Microsoft have signed a multi-year agreement.

Because of his high-energy antics, Ballmer can be tough act to follow, but after him RIM brought out Facebook's vice president of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson and she surprisingly wowed the crowd with some great anecdotes about Facebook, a visionary message about where Facebook is heading, and a vote of confidence in BlackBerry as one of its key mobile partners.

Everson, who left a top sales job at Microsoft to come to Facebook, explained how Facebook puts "Social by Design" stickers on everything at Facebook, including desks, walls, and laptops in order to remind all of the employees to put users and social features at the forefront of their work at all times. She told a story of how this philosophy bore fruit when two interns decided that Facebook needed its own photo-sharing element and built the feature in 24 hours. It didn't have hardly any features but it allowed users to tag their friends in the photos. It took off like wildfire and eventually made Facebook the No. 1 photo-sharing site on the planet.

Everson explains Facebook's principles of social design. Photo credit: Jason Hiner

According to Everson, another motto of Facebook is that "This journey is 1% finished," which speaks to the fact that Facebook sees the social networking revolution as still in its earliest infancy, with a ton of exciting innovation to come.

Everson stressed that mobile is the next great frontier, and that it will overtake PCs in the next two years as the most important computing platform. "I can't overestimate the importance of mobile," she said.

Nevertheless, Facebook hasn't done much to enhance its mobile experience. The Facebook app for the PlayBook is Facebook's first tablet app. Everson told the audience that it was a three-way collaboration between Facebook, RIM, and Adobe (the app was built using AIR).

"We're extremely bullish about our partnership with BlackBerry," she said. But, she also added that Facebook is "moving to a consistency across our platforms and [is] a big supporter of HTML5." In other words, don't expect tablet exclusivity on BlackBerry for long, and Facebook would ultimately prefer to build Web apps rather than a specific app for each platform.

While signing up these three partners is an important move that shows RIM is courting big developers and cutting the right deals, there's a lot more work that needs to be done -- for both smartphones and tablets. For the PlayBook, the one partner that RIM needs to double-down on immediately is Amazon. The PlayBook desperately needs a Kindle app, and an Amazon CloudPlayer app would be a big bonus as well.

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