While Apple and Palm bicker, U2 sides with . . . RIM

If you heard U2 was teaming up with a mobile phone maker for its latest tour, you probably thought that meant Apple or Palm. But neither are right. Instead, the company will be teaming up with BlackBerry maker RIM, according to CNBC.

This move is surprising given U2’s history with Apple. U2 has performed at Apple events, is the only band that has gotten its own branded iPod, and just this year launched its single “Get On Your Boots” on iTunes before its major competitors.

But snubbing Palm is arguably more surprising. After all, Bono is a partner in Elevation Partners, a venture firm that owns a nearly 40 percent stake in the company. And a recent $100 million injection by Elevation into Palm proved timely, as the company is still losing a ton of money each quarter and needs its new Pre device to be a hit.

As CNBC’s Jim Goldman notes, U2’s tour will probably be launching around the same time as the Pre, so you’d think that would be a good marketing strategy. But apparently Bono keeps his investments and his band’s integrity separate (although “integrity” is perhaps a tricky word in the music business when you’re launching a world tour sponsored by a cell phone company).

And this deal with RIM is more than just a tour sponsorship, apparently. “This tour announcement marks the first stage of a relationship and shared vision between RIM and U2 that we expect will lead to new and innovative ways to enhance the mobile music experience on the BlackBerry platform for U2 fans. We look forward to sharing more details as the relationship unfolds,” U2 manager Paul McGuinness said in a statement.

RIM is getting ready to launch its new BlackBerry application store, App World, at the end of this month. We’ve detailed why it might not be such a great deal for developers, but RIM looks to be pushing hard to market its device and expand its reach. The “mobile music experience” isn’t something BlackBerry is exactly known for, but perhaps that is a focus going forward.

You can bet Bono’s partner at Elevation, Roger McNamee, would have liked to use some of U2’s huge marketing power to sell the Pre as well. Last week, McNamee raised the already high Pre expectations even higher when he indicated to Bloomberg that all original iPhone owners were going to switch to the Pre when their contracts were up.

While no formal allegations have been made, and no lawsuits are pending, it’s widely believed that Apple and Palm may be on the verge of a fight over patents. The issue is that the Palm Pre is the first phone since the iPhone to use a multi-touch interface. During its earnings call earlier this year, Apple chief operating officer Tim Cook made it very clear that Apple would go after any company that infringed on its patents — something which was seen as a shot across the bow of Palm.

Just this morning, Palm announced it was remarketing 18.5 million of its shares owned by Elevation to put them back on the market. With the move, Elevation will immediately get back $49 million from the shares, which are now worth $105 million. And it will get all the net proceeds in excess of $49 million. This is a move by Palm to raise more capital.


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