That 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.