TORONTO BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is partnering with pop artist Will.i.am to help merge social networking and multimedia, in the company's latest move to gain more traction in the consumer retail market.
RIM will make Will.i.am's Dipdive online community and content available wirelessly on the BlackBerry, RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said in an interview.
"Probably the two hottest trends in wireless are social networking ... and the other one is the multimedia, which is principally portable music," Balsillie said.
Will.i.am is known for his career with the band Black Eyed Peas and his "Yes We Can" Barack Obama video, a huge hit on YouTube.com, where it has garnered millions of hits.
Balsillie said users currently view social networking and downloading music and other multimedia as two separate experiences. Increasingly, he believes, they are merging into one.
Dipdive, he said, is an example of this -- where politics-heavy blogging meets music video content.
"It brings the artist into a direct relationship with the fan," Balsillie said.
Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM has steadily expanded its offering of so-called "lifestyle applications" like games and multimedia in a bid to attract more retail users to the traditionally business-focused BlackBerry.
Last fall, it rolled out Facebook software designed especially for its smartphones to make it easier for users to browse the popular social networking Web site.
As RIM continues to push into the broader consumer market, some analysts have expressed concern it will face increased competition from Apple's iPhone. RIM has repeatedly insisted it has nothing to worry about.
Just last month, RIM raised its fourth-quarter subscriber growth forecast to reflect strong holiday sales and its shares rose. One analyst speculated a big promotional push from U.S. service providers for Christmas and Valentine's Day may have helped the company.
Despite RIM's consumer ambitions, about two-thirds of the total 12 million BlackBerry subscribers at the quarter ended December 1 were still classified as governments or large corporations.
Because of this, there has been concern that RIM would be hit by a slowdown in the U.S. economy, which may prompt employers to cut costs and delay upgrading their BlackBerry models.
However, Balsillie has said the economic turmoil would only have a limited impact on RIM.
RIM shares were down 89 Canadian cents at C$99.54 on the Toronto Stock Exchange amid a broad selloff.
(Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Rob Wilson)