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Is The BlackBerry Torch Strong Enough To Keep RIM On Top?

BlackBerry TorchThat is the question that I have been asked over and over for the past few days. Is the BlackBerry Torch 9800 coupled with BlackBerry 6 enough to keep RIM on top of the smartphone pack. My gut feeling is that RIM really needed to take a risk and hit this one out of the park but instead it feels like they just bunted with BlackBerry 6. Instead of trying to compete with other smartphone options feature by feature they simply copied the main ones they were missing and then focused on incrementally enhancing the BlackBerry users experience we have all come to love.

Together these two updates will buy RIM some time and maintain their install base but it will probably not be enough to woo all new users from the glitz and glamor of the Android and iPhone alternatives. RIM still has a strong lock on the business market but BlackBerry 6 is just barely struggling to level the playing field in the consumer market. (for now) RIM currently dominates the smartphone market and the BlackBerry Torch will be enough to maintain it but RIM needs to follow up with a signification update soon to push them ahead of the pack. They also need to make large revisions like this happen regularly instead of just once every 2 years. I think both AT&T and RIM said it best with the tag line in their first commercial:

Less an evolutionary leap more of a triple axel

Let me explain why…

RIM decided to play BlackBerry 6 VERY safe. They took NO risks when it came to developing this update and it shows. All of the changes are evolutionary with a few exceptions like adding wireless media sync over Wi-Fi and throwing in the towel with SurePress. Most of the features added are just copies or slight improvements/modifications on what competitors are already doing. Other features are just slight improvements and revisions of core BlackBerry features. What RIM truly needs is to get to the forefront of innovation in the smartphone wars.

Let me give you a couple of examples in the main features highlighted by RIM that really just brought them up to the current trends:

  • A Visually Fluid Interface that needed to be overhauled in 2007 yet finally got a incremental overhaul in OS 5 and then a nicer version now in BlackBerry 6. Its a shame it has taken so long and RIM still has a far way to go to compete with the eye candy being pushed out by Apple & Android devices.
  • Fast Rich Web Browsing – RIM has finally developed their own WebKit Browser which is what the competition has had for a few years now…
  • Social Feeds & Text Messaging – This is a perfect example of how RIM played it safe. This feature is just an evolutionary consolidation of the social features RIM already had with the addition of an RSS reader. All of this info was already available in your inbox before… Segregating it is not a groundbreaking feature.
  • A 5MP camera with autofocus… Sadly this is so last year. Where is our HD video recording? Web video conferencing? On the other hand they did add automatic geotagging based on your cell tower city location and some new camera modes so there is a bright side.
  • Universal Search – Finally! Developers have been trying to mimic such an app for years. It is something that most other platforms already have yet RIM does deserve some credit for adding some tweaks like searching inside third party apps and even settings.

On the other hand RIM did surpass the competition slightly with some features in BlackBerry 6 and the Torch.

  • Engaging Multimedia Experience – In this RIM finally took some initiative by opening the door to wirelessly sync media over Wi-Fi. I think that will be really hot and I can see competitors copying it very soon. The addition of a podcasts app is also interesting since I might finally listen to them. Still these are apps that developers should be making for RIM. Instead RIM has to develop them because BlackBerry Development is still not an easy endeavor if it is at all possible.
  • Even tighter integration between the multitasking social and communication apps on the BlackBerry through the social feeds. Its kind of cool how this information shows up in a quick status box you can view yet this is something Android really started…

Up until here things are not so bad. RIM raised the bar for themselves and now they can at least compete with their web browser and other features. The problem stems from what they missed…

  • RIM has done very little in BlackBerry 6 and the SDK to make developing BlackBerry applications easier and worthwhile. They are touting the widgets and WebKit browser but that technology is just not ready yet which is why it has not taken off on any other platform.
  • Following that first point is the fact that RIM can only cover so much of their third party development problem. All of the best BlackBerry apps are developed by RIM or Google. RIM needs to empower developers to enhance the BlackBerry experience yet many BlackBerry developers will tell you that RIM is forcing them to fight with both hands tied behind their back.
  • The screen is… dated on the BlackBerry Torch. You will be hard pressed to find a top of the line smartphone these days that has a 3.2″ 360 x 480 capacitive touch screen display.
  • A 624Mhz processor? Are you kidding me? I was noticing lag on the 9800 in the display cases. Would it kill RIM to get with the program and at least throw a fast processor to make up for the legacy OS?
  • Only 512Mb Flash and 4GB SD Card? This device is supposed to compete with 16Gb+ smartphones at the same price point. Why exactly is RIM skimping on memory & storage?
  • 3G network support for only HSPA 3.6 instead of the HSPA 7.2 that all new high end phones support…
  • Mobile hotspot is a feature that is starting to show up in handhelds and something that business users would kill for. RIM could have really stepped in front of this one and added it to BlackBerry 6…

I could keep going on and on but my whole argument boils down to one point. There is nothing I can point to in BlackBerry 6 that truly makes it outshine the competition. RIM really needs something that will make customers run in droves to pick a BlackBerry up at their closest AT&T store. It just lacks in the feature comparison, technical comparison, and sex appeal. The one place they truly excel is by providing an idiot proof tight and streamlined communications experience. The problem is that as more feature phone users get converted to smartphone users they are blinded by the glitz and glamour not streamlined efficiency.

I think RIM can still make this right. I have heard rumors of their plans for 2011 and from what I have learned so far they plan on BLOWING OUR MINDS. Those were the exact words one of my sources used… Still I really hope they realize they need to do much more than the “lipstick on a pig” that pulled off in BlackBerry 6. They either need more lipstick and makeup or a they need to kill the pig and start over. All in all I still think that the BlackBerry Torch 9800 will be my top choice for a smartphone in 2010. The competition is still just scratching the surface when it comes to the streamlined experience offered by BlackBerrys and RIM has addressed many of the major concerns users had with the platform. I just hope RIM can start moving faster with HUGE hardware and software upgrades instead of this incremental memory boosts and form factor updates we have seen to date. They also need to start updating their OS faster than just once every two years since the competition is doing it every few months or at least yearly.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

25 total comments on this postSubmit your comment!
  1. There’s not much else to add to this superb article, well written Ronen!! Thank you for such great content!!

  2. Well written and objective. I don’t know if RIM’s endgame is to steal current Apple and Android customers, but rather sway those who haven’t made up their minds.

    My wife, for instance, REALLY wanted an iP4 UNTIL I showed her the Torch review that Kevin did on CB. It blew her away. She had always seen my BlackBerries as too hard to use and not streamlined enough for the casual user. RIM may not have killed it for CURRENT BB users, but they really made the decision harder for potentials.

    … just my .02 cents

  3. No this phone is not enough to keep RIM on top. RIM is going to start bleeding customers at a high rate, with the advancements Android and Apple have made with updating their respective OSes without having to upgrade the handset every time. Judging by the poll I saw the other day, half of all current Blackberry owners want to switch to either Apple or Android. That is huge! That should be a bad news indicator to RIM, but I doubt it will have any effect on their backwards thinking. The phones and hardware are dated, as is the OS. They either need to make major strides fast, or be prepared for a mass exodus.

  4. I agree with what Ronen wrote. This will NOT keep RIM on top. The following quote from the posting is something that RIM still hasn’t noticed or simply chosen to ignore.

    “The problem is that as more feature phone users get converted to smartphone users they are blinded by the glitz and glamour not streamlined efficiency.”

    Hasn’t RIM noticed that the reason why people get so excited about high end phones is because the specs blow people away?! It’s the fast processor, large high resolution screens, high resolution cameras, front facing camera, etc that get people excited about upcoming phones. RIM put the same processor as the Bold 9000 which was released almost 2 years ago and the same screen resolution as the original Storm which was also released almost 2 years ago. And the lack of built in memory is a joke. Memory is relatively inexpensive now. There should have been more flash memory for apps and the OS and built in memory for media.

    Unless you’re a die hard blackberry fan you’re not going to pay $200 for the 9800 when you can get an iPhone 4, HTC Evo, Motorola Droid X, HTC Droid Incredible, Samsung Galaxy S line, etc for the same price and they have much better specs.

  5. As a recent convert to the IP4 from a Bold 9700, this doesn’t sway me at all. It’s unfortunate because I think RIM can find their way, this is not enough though. The BB6 OS looks promising enough and I will be curious to try it, the hardware is basically the same spec as the Bold (RAM increase is negated because the OS will be larger) I just got rid of. This phone should have had at least a 800×400 3.5″ screen, 1Ghz processor, 1GB+ RAM or allowed apps to be installed on the flash memory. That would have made the package a bit more enticing to many people out there. Unfortunately i would say this is just too little, too late.

  6. And the exclusivity deal is pushing me to leave BB when contract expires in a couple months. I’m not going to switch carriers, give up customer service and pay a high premium for services I already get cheaper just to have this phone. If it weren’t for the exclusivity, I would probably already have the Torch. I’ve been patient long enough. Between antennagate and a dim torch, it looks like Android is the direction I’m heading.

  7. Thanks guys I totally stand by what I said. I think the Torch buys RIM some time to revamp without cutting to much into their user base. It gives current users enough of a bump to at least not be embarrassed about certain features like thew web browser. On the other hand there is no “Wow look at this” feature which RIM really needs. RIM still has a leg up on the competition with their great workflow for Email, IM, and social networking all integrated but they need more pizazz!

  8. First off, kudos to Ronen for the article. Stuff like this keeps me coming back to BR time & time again. As far as if this can keep BB on top, I think not. I think where Blackberry fails is they keep trying to appease the corporate types and don’t realize it’s the young consumer market who now drives the demand for smartphones. This is why they are satisfied with a “triple axle” and ultimately will be the thing that pushes them under. Low resolution screen, substandard memory… epic fails imo. Now the buzz is on front facing cameras and instead BB decides they wanna razzle dazzle wuth a slider?!! FOH

    The only reason I haven’t jumped ship yet is because I still feel like there are only 2 smartphones that matter in the smartphone arena: Blackberry and iPhone… And since I refuse to become another mindless iPhone lemming I’m condemned to BB until either something revolutionary hits the market or something changes my thinking. This phone has done little more than reaffirmed Blackberry really has little clue what drives demand in the consumer market.

  9. I’ll echo Fabian in saying “great article Ronen”, but I will comment on a few things you mentioned:

    1. Yes, RIM is playing it too safe — way too safe! They need to take more risks and put more, as you put it, “eye candy” in front of the masses. Where is the leading ingenuity that made the BlackBerry so popular in the first place? Have they lost their ability to engineer great products?

    2. RIM’s webkit browser appears to be faster, and it performs better in ACID and HTML5 tests than its competitors on the iPhone & Android. It’s all over YouTube, but RIM needs to really sell that! RIM should have focused on a larger and higher definition display to really demonstrate the wonders of their new browser. Yes, the Torch is fine, but at least tell us about an upcoming new Storm device or even the BlackPad with a higher res screen, more RAM, and a 2nd camera for video conferencing!

    3. RIM does need to modernize the BlackBerry SDK and make it easier for developers to create new apps; however, BlackBerry security is a worthwhile hurdle to some but such a huge benefit for users. BlackBerry certainly beats the pants off the competition in the area of security, and RIM needs to keep it this way.

    4. I agree the 512 MB RAM is limiting, but it is especially limiting because BlackBerry requires apps to be installed in RAM rather than device memory. 4 GB of device memory (not SD flash) is installed but I really don’t know what it will be used for. Most people install SD flash cards with 32 GB of stuff. Why is RIM not freeing up RAM by allowing apps to be installed in device memory is beyond me! Maybe they have in BlackBerry 6 and are not mentioning it?!? Somehow I doubt it.

    5. I still don’t like the way the BlackBerry switches apps, even in BlackBerry 6. I can’t help but be wowed with the way the Palm Pre does it. It is clean and simple and less confusing to users. Why can’t RIM do the same? If you want to sell multitasking capabilities, make it easy for users… and please don’t ask them to delete apps when memory is full — they should be closing open apps rather that removing them! Who thought of that brilliant solution to a memory shortage?!?

    6. The underpowered Torch may be fine to use (some say it has no lag), but it is far from being a flagship device with only a 624 MHz processor, 512 MB RAM, HSPA 3.6, and a 3.2-inch 480×320 display. These specs are “so 2008… and 2000 late!!!” C’mon RIM! You’ve “gotta get-get”! 🙂

    I like your closing comments, Ronen. You nailed it! Despite the missed opportunities, the competition still cannot meet the efficiency of the BlackBerry. However, the media is all about the glitz & glamour. In that area, RIM is losing customers. The iPhone and Android will continue to impress in areas of hardware specs and eye candy apps! To attract more developers, RIM needs to get some of that glitz & glamour. No dancing ladies, please! Just more geeky stuff!

    Yes, some organizations mature over time and wanna sit on their soft cushions; however, some like Apple and Google are continuing to push and act like overachieving small companies, and they are using their maturity to get those things right. The iPhone is a near perfect blend of sexy look & feel technology with solid corporate backing. Apple also spends a lot on form & factor… apparently, RIM did great with the look & feel of the Torch, but not with the hardware specs 🙁 RIM REALLY needs to start BLOWING OUR MINDS because the competition is doing just that TODAY!

    Now, what do I hear about the new Droid X…?

  10. Good article! It was a BIG disappointment not to see this support 7.2 speeds. I will definitely be picking one up though. BB6 looks nice and I have always wanted a touchscreen Berry on at&t. I think the gamechanger for RIM will be the Storm that is supposed to launch as one of the first lte phones. If the rumored specs on that are right then that will be the phone that will be revolutionary for RIM.

  11. I use just about every phone for a bit and I still prefer BB’s. I think OS6 is a nice update. The BB web browser has been way behind. I wonder how many of you have used other phones lol. Phone have features other don’t just like cars, there made for different people. I feel that BB has there on focus while Iphone and Android compete for multimedia. I tell people if you want multimedia get an android or iphone if you want productive get a BB. I haven’t used the 9800 but I watched video and it looked a lil laggy but it also looked like the people had little time so they opened and tried a lot of apps and so did the following person so I can only imagine how many apps they had open which would cause about any phone to lag. Also the memory issue, I have a 9700 with about 100MB free and I have apps for about every thing I need lol, BB don’t require much memory in general. I also think Android and Iphone are great phones but there competing in a different market, its all what your looking for. RIM shoulda added some stuff but no matter how much it wouldn’t be enough for everyone. Pick the phone to what you like and need.

  12. Also like to add about the 5MP camera, wth does the IPhone 4 use? Lol.

  13. My thought is that this is enough of an incremental evolution to hold on to existing ATT BlackBerry users that value communication over glitz. ATT has little to offer on the Android front but does have the iPhone of course. I do not think this combo is enough though to draw BlackBerry customers to ATT from other carriers nor is it enough to woo customers who would consider an iPhone.

    But Ronen, you evaluation of the current state of BlackBerry is spot on and I can find nothing you said with which I disagree. And you’ve harped on it for years, but if RIM doesn’t step up to make developing BlackBerry apps easier, the BlackBerry platform is going to steadily decrease in market share.

  14. Well written, fair, critical.

    I agree with your points of view- but would like to clarify one item, it is my understanding that the Torch has 512 MB of RAM, 4 GB of onboard memory and ships with a 4GB card- for a total out of the box of 8 GB of memory. Why does RIM explain it in this manner, who knows. But without the card, Torch should have 4 GB of memory on board with the ability to read 32 GB cards. Still under the current industry average but better than previous berry.

    ALSO- I have to agree with your opinion on 2011. RIM is alway preaching about efficiency of their devices. Torch is basically the last, high end 3G device from RIM with an introductory to their new OS Platform. It wouldn’t make sense to pull out all the bells and whistles for a 3G device. LTE is on track to be implemented in all major markets by 2011. RIM will need a device to compete in this market, so prepare for a new device that can utilize it fully. It is typical RIM to be conservative in their approach and considering a future of TIERED DATA PLANS that many carriers are considering. Blackberry’s may prove to be more cost effective to own than other devices with reputations for being data hogs.

    mobile wifi hotspot, front facing camera for video conferencing, HD recording…all important features that a typical business class user would REALLY like on their device.

  15. * 96 MB
    * High-resolution 320×240 pixel color display
    * Dual-band 800/1900 MHz CDMA2000 1X Ev-DO networks

    Check out these lousy specs. Wow. This phone must be a total flop. Oops, these are the specs for the Curve 8330. The #1 selling smart phone in the world.

    People don’t by phones because of specs. They buy them because they like them. The last version of the iPhone couldn’t even multi-task and it still sold like hotcakes for AT&T.

    The Torch may not have the best smartphone specs but it will be popular. Especially if they bring the thing over to Verizon.

  16. Well, Google and Apple are good companies, but BlackBerry has been in this business for sometime now. I use the BB mainly for emails and I am very pleased by its performance and reliability. I don’t want to play games, I don’t want to listen to music and I am not planning on using the BB on a model photo shoot. I don’t need a phone to show off either.

    Whether I can browse with a pad, or my finger is irrelevant. All I want to make sure is that my emails arrive in an expedited matter, I can download portions of the email (as BB does) to save costs when I am overseas, and I can browse certain websites that are needed in the business world. Having a small device is also a big plus.

    Extra memory would be nice, 5 MP is more than sufficient if you have an accident and speed would be a welcomed addition.

    The BB will be my next choice, and the choice after that, and the choice after that.

  17. What a week its been so far. I fall in the ranks as a BB user. I’ve tried most other phones, all the various o/s platforms, but something keeps driving me back to a Blackberry. Early this week I played with an Iphone 4, it was on display at the Apple store, it’s undenyably sexy, well built, drop dead gorgeous screen. I held the Iphone in one hand, and my 8900 in the other hand and I just laughed. I did however, happily holster my 8900 and walk away, albeit with a bit of Ipone envy…but I kept my chin up knowing that I have one of the most efficient communication tools that has been released. It gets the job done, not as glamouros as the competition, but with a confident stride, without breaking a sweat.

    I still believe Rim releases their phones with the business community in mind, I’m thinking 80% of their effort is directed at keeping the business centric purchaser happy. I say this because of a simple observation I’ve made. My wife’s employer has atleast 2000K on BES. They generate atleast $30-$40+ a head, each month. The people using these devices don’t necessary give a flying …… if the device is sporting 1GHZ processor, Amoled screen. They want their email, their synced calender, a battery that lasts a full day. These are the users RIM is targeting, and hoping to retain. They drive the revenue stream. My guess is that sales of new devices only account 20% of profits, if that.

    With that being said, Rim will do well with this device, no doubt. Even the revision of the 9700 will do well. They don’t have any catostrophic failures to turn people away.

    I’m going to find it hard to resist this new 9800 when it’s released, I will drop into a store and play with it, while my daughter tugs at my shirt….”daddy, let’s go”, and in a moment of weakness, I will bring one home. I love how my Berry behaves when I holster it, I love my keyboard shortcuts, I love my BBM, I love my physical keyboard,I love my tethering, I love my charging dock (I hope the 9800 has one)….Where am I going!!

    My rant….

  18. So. . . . serial posts from a cite that calls itself BerryReview that trash the latest Blackberry in a manner that suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of what RIM does and who its target audience and its users are? Might I suggest, before I strike this cite from my feedlots, that you re-title this cite BerryTroll? HD Video on a BlackBerry aimed at corporate users? Who is being serious now, with that little pink-kitten-on-your-birthday wish? What rational person imagines corporate IT departments looking for a company and a device that leaps at risks, makes gratuitous changes for their own sake, trying to get out in front of the careening consumer market. How about backward compatibility, safety, stability, security, productivity, exciting things like that? Are we to imagine that our companies are going to start buying us TOYS instead of tools? Here’s the thing about the Ronen and Davey show — a dead give-away of an agenda — they stomp their virtual feet in petulant disappointed surprise over the Torch specs, which we have all known about in detail for a number of months.

    The Torch is a solid, rational step forward for RIM which should allow current BlackBerry users to continue to utilize their devices in more productive ways. More memory, more screen space, greater and smoother functionality than the previous generation, without sacrificing dependability for the coo-cooing of infantalized reviewers and deluded, single-tasking magic-seekers.

    • Hi Mark, I think you are reading to much into the reviews wrong. We are not trashing BlackBerry they are just falling behind on the technology curve. First of all the majority of RIM’s customers are no longer enterprise users. Regular consumers are over 50% and growing. There is also much less room for growth for RIM in the enterprise while they are barely holding on to the top place in the consumer market.
      If users want a business device then there is nothing wrong with the 9700 or 9650. Business users do not need social feeds so why do you think this is a business device? During RIM’s announcement you will not see ONE mention of business or enterprise use. That is because this is NOT a device aimed at businesses. Businesses will benefit from some of the additional specs but consumers are wondering why they have to pay the same $200 for substandard specs?
      The big question I really have is why you think that keeping up with the technology curve requires RIM to sacrifice dependability? Do you think they are not capable of creating a similar phone with top of the line features? I think they are!

      • Don’t misunderstand, I would love more memory, higher resolution, etc., but I appreciate that RIM sets itself a difficult task in the first place in trying to make a phone that can straddle the markets. As the annoyed Sam K notes, many corporate IT departments are stuck in a “Soviet-style minicam” (SCTV) mindset and want simple and cheap. But one of the lessons from the success of Apple and others is that the targets moving more and faster today. I was, of course, being purposefully arch in tone — there is an upside to consumers pushing the producers to innovate. There is, for RIM, a sweet spot which will tempt Sam K’s Enterprise IT guys and appeal to consumers as well. On the enterprise side, I can tell you spending a little more to get a better Blackberry realizes productivity gains. This is what I think the Torch will do, relative to earlier Blackberries. It will allow business users to do more better. And even with the goofy social networking apps, no one can say with certainty how things will develop, even in the near future. People will use their phones in surprising ways, and good phone companies will try and accommodate and facilitate that, rather than to anticipate and dictate every new development.

        Another anecdote, FWIW — I have been surprised by how popular Blackberries have become with the young adult market in our part of the country. And they don’t seem particularly hung up on having the latest model, greatest specs. After cycling through a lot of LG’s, Samsungs, Iphones, they seem to have hit on Blackberry, of all things, as something that easy to use and does the phoning, messaging, picture-taking as well as they need or want. Not all of us aspire to the heights, I guess. I do think that we have blown past the app saturation point. I don’t want to hear “There’s an app for that” every time someone hiccups. I want and need a limited number of apps. As good and useful new apps become available, I find I use less of some of the older apps, so memory is not yet a problem, particularly if you debloat your phone.

    • Mark, the arrogant tone of your post really annoys me. Like Ronen said, the 9800 is not targeted at corporate IT departments. Corporate IT departments don’t care about getting the top of the line Blackberry for their employees. They don’t care about touch screens, high resolution cameras, social networking features, a better web browser, etc. They get blackberies for their employees in order to do work related tasks like read/write email, make phone calls and maybe chat with coworkers on BBM or enterprise messenger and they care about cost. You don’t need the top of the line Blackberry to do those things. I work in the IT department of one of the largest international commercial banks in the world and guess what Blackberries we buy from AT&T? Most employees get the cheapest Blackberry available with a full qwerty keyboard and right now that happens to be the Curve 8520 and people who travel to Japan either get refurb Bold 9000s/9700s (if they’re available) or Bold 9700s because they need 3G. Also, did you see that AT&T put up monolith displays in their stores for the 9800? Those displays are to attract consumers. Corporate IT departments don’t shop in AT&T retail stores. They deal directly with a sales rep who ships the devices to them.

      Lastly, if RIM had included a higher resolution screen and a faster processor, is that really sacrificing “backward compatibility, safety, stability, security, productivity”? Is that really “sacrificing dependability”? Please give me a break. According to your logic if I’m chosing between 2 PCs, the one with the better specs (i.e. faster processor and higher resolution monitor) will be less compatible, less safe, less stable, less secure and less productive than the one with the lower specs even if they run the same operating system. That’s ridiculous. In fact one could argue that the one with the better specs would increase your productivity.

  19. I love how Mark threathens to “strike this from his feedlots” when it’s quite obvious he’s not a frequenter of this site to begin with. If anything this site aims to spotlight the advancements, features, applications, and news hilights of Blackberry. It floors me that after reading an objective review of a new device how he insists the site be renamend to “BerryTroll”. Ha! Delusional much??!

    It’s also quite obvious that this device is aimed at the consumer market. Features such as incorporating RSS feeds, social network integration and wireless synchronization of media clearly aren’t aimed at a business consumer. Mark, do us all a favor and get an iPhone. U seem like a lemming looking for a cause to blindly follow. Blackberrys are for people with brains.

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