Torch 9800: Does BlackBerry even matter anymore?

Noah Kravitz
 from Oakland, CA
Published: August 3, 2010



Today in New York City BlackBerry launched their most ambitious new device since the spectacular fail that was the original Storm. The BlackBerry Torch 9800 will hit AT&T on August 12th, costing customers $200 plus a two year contract to get a taste of BB's first-ever slider device and the new BlackBerry 6 platform.

Torch looks to combine key BB elements that users have come to love - best-in-class QWERTY keyboard, fast and secure push messaging - with features that current smartphone buyers have been flocking to, like a richer Web browser, capactitive touchscreen and social networking integration. On paper, at least, the device answers many year-old complaints regarding RIM's getting left behind in the race to make media rich, user-friendly smartphones that consumers will line up to purchase.

In other words, Torch is BlackBerry's latest effort to stave off the iPhone Effect.

Most people I know who carry a BlackBerry also have a second phone. Usually the BlackBerry is for work, issued by a corporate IT department, synced to corporate email/calendar/contacts servers and surgically fused to the user's hip from eight to eight five days a week. The second phone is for personal use, the one the person actually picked out of a lineup and paid their own money for. Used to be the second phone was a cheap, generic flip meant to send and receive voice calls and not run out of batteries. That was before looking at photos, pinching and zooming Web pages, and listening to music on the go became uber-trendy.

Now all of those two-phone users have iPhones as their second devices. A few have Droids (sorry, Android OS phones) but most of them just wanted "the closest thing to iPhone that works on Verizon." Point is, that second phone has gone from a utilitarian device for personal calls to an ultra-functional, super cool, fun gadget that gets me away from work Email and back in touch with my wife's texts, my buddies' Facebook updates, and photos of my kids. 

RIM made a run at the Fun Second Smartphone crowd with the Storm and its smoothed out successor, Storm 2. But by the time they got some of the kinks worked out and ditched that bizarre mechanical-press touchscreen mess, Google had rounded up HTC and Motorola and got a bunch of folks all riled up about Android. And while RIM was working on the daunting tasks of creating radically new versions of their hardware and software products, Apple was making more minor tweaks to their single smartphone model and its OS, while Google was charging forward with their hardware partners to flood the world with more Android OS devices (and platform versions) than most people can keep track of.

What's key about the recent year or so is this: RIM had to re-conceive their brand in ways both major and minor in hopes of reaching the consumers who now rule the smartphone market. Apple and Google, on the other hand, started with consumer friendly offerings and instead have been working to better integrate with Enterprise environments while refining the "fun" core already in place. RIM's task was far more daunting, as it involved major conceptual and technical problems as opposed to its competitors' largely more technical tasks of working on security and other corporate data-centric solutions.

So far it sounds like Torch is a nice, thin, device with a typically great RIM keyboard and an underpowered processor. But, honestly, does anyone care?

I mean, look at the landscape: IT managers are locked up with RIM. It's a good symbiotic relationship. RIM gets revenue, IT peeps get familiar territory upon which to apply apps and settings and security lockdowns. RIM themselves said BB OS 6 will be more evolutionary then revolutionary, so the IT folk are all good.  And  consumers? Consumers still have a choice.  I guess they have more of a choice now, but given a 1 - or even 2 - GHz chip powering a Droid or a mysterious Apple chip powering a mysterious ApplePhone, will they really choose a 600-and-something Mhz BlackBerry? Or worse yet, if they don't know and don't care what an Mhz is, why would they choose a BBerry over an iPhone and its world of fart apps?  

RIM and BlackBerry still rightfully hold a hallowed place in the realm of enterprise class secure messaging devices. But is that enough? iPhone and its army of followers (Android, webOS) have brought fun to the smartphone landscape. In the meantime they've also been steadily upping their enterprise game. If an iPhone can show off my kids' photos better than anyone else's device and hook into my corporate server to boot, why would I want a BlackBerry to go with it?  Is BlackBerry's push email and security enough? Is RIM destined to die a slow death?  Sound off in the comments!

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