Research In Motion's BlackBerry 6 - Smartphone OS face-off

BlackBerry 6 rimWhat it is: Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) announced in April it will unveil its long-awaited BlackBerry 6 update during the third quarter. RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis promised the most significant BlackBerry software overhaul in years. Although specifics remain scarce, Lazaridis trumpeted enhancements including an improved WebKit-based browser, a customizable homescreen, a revamped media player and a more intuitive user experience.

"We're trying to update the UI and fix the stuff that people wanted us to fix," he said, adding that BlackBerry 6 will extend to both trackpad and touchscreen devices.

Further, during RIM's quarterly conference call with analysts in June, the company provided a few more details on forthcoming devices likely to introduce BlackBerry 6. Executives said the company is planning two significant product launches that will carry high average selling prices. The gadgets will be launched across the company's fiscal second and third quarters. The news dovetails with continuing rumors of a slider-style BlackBerry with a touchscreen, featuring the new BlackBerry OS 6.

Watch it in action: During its April BlackBerry 6 announcement, RIM provided a 2-minute video peek at its forthcoming platform.

Further, as with virtually any high-end smartphone launch, leaks appear to be springing around the globe. The below video, apparently recorded in Japan, appears to provide a much clearer walkthrough of RIM's planned upgrade.

Finally, this week RIM released this latest BlackBerry 6 video.

What we know: "We don't really know that much," admitted Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart, conceding RIM has been stingy with BlackBerry 6 details. Greengart noted RIM appears to be focusing on both Qwerty phones (RIM's bread and butter) as well as touchscreen phones (where RIM has only dabbled to date).

"I have every bit of faith that BlackBerry will put up the table stakes," said ABI's Michael Morgan, explaining he expects RIM will at least match the browsing and multimedia capabilities provided by leaders such as Android and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

What we don't know: What remains unclear is whether RIM will be able to continue spanning the enterprise and consumer markets. "They're in a bit of a trap due to their enterprise heritage." Morgan said, noting RIM must appeal to hardcore enterprise emailers while at the same time appeasing social networking teens.

Further, RIM's approach toward the developer community remains in question. While the company has worked to expand its App World storefront, third-party offerings for BlackBerry continue to pale in comparison to the likes of Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

BlackBerry App World BlackBerry "is just not that interesting," said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas.

"RIM has to reinvigorate the development community," explained Greengart. "It's too hard to build and distribute a BlackBerry app. That's an area where Apple has an enormous advantage."

The bottom line: "Will the OS go far enough to catch up with iPhone and Android in multimedia and the user interface while preserving the BlackBerry experience around email, battery life and data efficiency?" asked Greengart.

BlackBerry's focus on email has served it well, but "the core of a modern smartphone is Internet access and apps," Greengart noted, and BlackBerry needs to up its game.

Research In Motion's BlackBerry 6 - Smartphone OS face-off
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