March 6, 2008: 1:30 PM EST
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Blackberry's new adversary

Apple threatens Research in Motion's turf as the iPhone-maker turns its focus to business customers

By Scott Moritz, writer

NEW YORK (Fortune) -- Among the new developments in store for Apple's iPhone showcased today at an analysts' gathering in Cupertino, Calif., is a plan to allow iPhone users to access their office e-mail.

"It will be seen as a negative for RIM, but I think the market is big enough to carry both," says one Wall Street buyside analyst who asked not to be named, and whose firm is long both Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) and Research in Motion (RIMM).

But it seems that winning over corporate tech departments will be Apple's biggest challenge in this market. RIM rode to the top of the mobile enterprise e-mail game largely on its efforts to hook business clients early with lots of hands-on network support and a very specific e-mail application. The ubiquitous BlackBerry is now standard equipment for hard-chargers on the go.

If Apple "could dedicate a unit to enterprise, that would be huge," says the buyside analyst. But as it stands, Apple has been hesitant to share control and product roadmap information with any entity outside the company. And while Apple is unparalleled in delivering cool gadgets to the consumer market, not everyone believes the company's success streak will inevitably extend to the business sector.

"There's some long term potential for Apple certainly, but I think they are late and enterprise IT managers aren't blown away by their offerings," says one money manager.

Another hurdle in its attack on the RIM market is the iPhone's virtual keyboard for typing e-mails. Thumb typists have gotten very attached to the mini keypad on BlackBerries and aren't likely to be easy converts to the touchscreen approach, say gadget fans.

But in response to the impending iPhone assault on business smartphones, RIM has been working on its own touchscreen phone. Some industry observers are betting that the upcoming 9000-series will include a real keyboard.

In other words, RIM is gearing up for a big iPhone battle. To top of page