RIM: BlackBerry goes consumer

Is that the new BlackBerry‾ Is it better than the iPhone‾


These questions, from an eager airport security officer in Toronto (I was returning from RIM's Industry Analyst Summit), provide a quick demonstration of the interest that RIM's new handsets are generating with consumers.


The security officer's interest was piqued by RIM's recently introduced flagship device, the BlackBerry Bold. While the iPhone and the Bold are very different devices and will appeal to different buyers, we do think the Bold will help to shake off the BlackBerry's staid corporate image and add some excitement to the brand.


RIM claims the Bold was named for its "˜sharp and bold' screen (it is certainly both of these things). It is a powerful, high-end 3G device with features including new version 4.6 software, a new-look user interface and Web browser, WiFi, GPS, a 2 megapixel camera and support for a range of video and audio codecs.


This sort of feature set has become the minimum required to compete with high-end handsets from other manufacturers, and the Bold will rely on the strengths of the BlackBerry services (the platform is still the clear leader in mobile email) to differentiate itself.


Flip - neither flesh nor fowl‾


Conversely, the Pearl Flip is the new entry-level model, targeted at first-time BlackBerry users and younger buyers. It is also likely to be introduced into the prepaid market.


The Pearl Flip is heavily based on the existing Pearl series, using the same cut-down SureType keypad and similar hardware specs (quad-band GSM/EDGE, WiFi, Bluetooth) in the flip form factor that is so popular in the North American market (according to RIM, 60% of North American consumers use flip phones).


The Pearl Flip is clearly focused on North American users, with no 3G access, so marketing the device to consumers in Europe or Asia-Pacific countries will be tricky. 3G will assume more important as RIM adds more data-intensive consumer applications (such as content sharing and streaming applications). Also, the Flip is not a compact device: while is not unattractive, it will not attract the fashion-conscious.


BlackBerry is becoming a consumer service delivery platform


The success of the BlackBerry in enterprise has always been due to RIM's managed services over its proprietary platform, particularly push email.


Its end-to-end approach offers advantages such as security and quality of service. As it pushes into the consumer market, RIM is leveraging this experience and architecture, and applying it to more consumer-friendly applications and services.


However, for developers and service providers to take advantage of the BlackBerry push technology they must cede some control to RIM; this may begin to concern operators if RIM's services are competitors to their own services (this is an issue for any major device manufacturer rolling out their own services, especially Apple and Nokia).


RIM has clearly been busy seeking out new partners to deliver services to BlackBerry customers, which will help the company expand beyond the boardroom.


Some examples of RIM's recent announcements in the consumer realm include:


"¢ MySpace, a dedicated application that uses BlackBerry push technology to deliver messaging and content from MySpace (similar to the existing Facebook application)'


"¢ TiVo, whose users will be able view electronic programme guides and schedule recordings remotely using their BlackBerry;


"¢ Windows Live Search - RIM has announced integrated search functionality through a Windows Live Search application


"¢ a new Google application includes access to search, news, mail and Google Apps;


"¢ Slacker Personal Radio is a web-based radio service that provides a streaming radio station, which can be personalised based on the user's song or artist preferences. It also allows users to buffer tracks while in a WiFi hotspot, which can then be listened to while out of network range (available from October in the US);


"¢ Ticketmaster customers will be able to browse concerts and events, listen to sample music and purchase tickets on BlackBerry devices. The service is initially launching in the US, Canada and the UK;


"¢ AOL instant messaging including AOL mail, AIM and ICQ clients.