Research In Motion Ltd. is hoping its new touch screen BlackBerry Storm can make waves among both consumer and enterprise users. But according to one industry observer, RIM’s split focus might lead to adoption challenges in both markets.
Upon its launch, Apple Inc.’s iPhone received some sharp criticisms among enterprise users who had grown accustomed to the physical, QWERTY-style keyboard found on BlackBerry devices.
“Every BlackBerry user I spoke to until now has been cynical about the iPhone, especially when considering it as a replacement,” Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, a Netherlands-based online entrepreneur and tech blogger, said. BlackBerry users are so married to their devices, he added, they can often type messages without looking at their phones.
Fast-forward a couple years and several million iPhones sold later, and RIM is finally following in Apple’s footsteps and rolling out a soft, touch keyboard on the Storm. CEO Jim Balsillie has also emphasized the Storm’s ability to interface with all sorts of multimedia services, such as MySpace, Facebook, TiVo, Windows media application, and of course, Apple iTunes.
As a user of both the iPhone and the BlackBerry, van Zanten argued that RIM still hasn’t proven that appealing to consumers is in its DNA.
“Geeks often dismiss new technology by saying, ‘I can do that too on my Linux machine! All you have to do is…’ and then recite an incomprehensible tutorial on how to develop your own iTunes or other innovative services,” van Zanten said. “Sure, the BlackBerrys will be able to connect to a lot of services, but it will be awkward, unintuitive and technically challenging.”
The beauty of the iPhone, he added, is not its features, but how well they are integrated into the device, “just like the beauty of BlackBerry services lay in the symbiosis between the hardware and the server software.”
While initially targeted at the consumer market, the iPhone has been able to make an impact in the business world. The addition of Microsoft’s Exchange Active Sync – a tool which gives IT managers the ability to set password policies and VPN settings, as well as remotely administer data wipes on lost or stolen iPhones – has helped make the iPhone a legitimate contender in the enterprise handheld sweepstakes.
Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst with Frammington, Mass.-based IDC, sees the Storm as a strategic play by RIM to thwart any enterprise momentum gained by the iPhone over the last year.
“Recently, RIM’s more consumer-friendly devices such as the Curve and the Pearl have had an appeal in the enterprise,” he said. “With the Bold, and now the Storm, RIM is continuing to focus on that market. By hitting on the demand for a touchscreen, RIM is hitting that sweet spot for users who want their devices to be more than devices of utility.”
“Henry Ford said you can have any colour of car you want as long as it’s black,” he added. “With the Storm, BlackBerry is hoping that doesn’t apply to its devices anymore.”
Along with RIM’s firmly established reputation in the enterprise environment, the Storm shouldn’t face too much difficulty winning over business users, Gartner Inc. mobile and wireless analyst Ken Dulaney said.
“It’s a BlackBerry and has all the security and manageability features that all BlackBerrys have,” he said. “Other than the different interface, it will be readily accepted by enterprises.”
But other industry watchers, like van Zanten, argued that RIM has done itself little help recently with a rash of delays and lacklustre product announcements.
“Right now RIM is lagging behind,” van Zanten said. “They announce phones and then take months to deliver them. The ball has been in RIM’s corner for months, or even years now, and we are all waiting for RIM to blow us away with something spectacular. So far, the results have been disappointing.”
While van Zanten doesn’t deny the Storm will move more than a few units off the shelves, he doubts the device will make the inroads RIM expects to with consumers – and even the business community for that matter.
“My guess is that the Storm will sell well with a lot of people, who for one reason or another, refuse to get an iPhone,” he said. “It won’t convert keyboard addicts to switch or iPhone users to switch. It will, however, demonstrate that RIM does still matter and will pave the way for new and more innovative devices.”
But those devices will have to do more than just look great, he added.
“That would be a fight RIM is sure to lose against Apple. RIM will have to take their strength, which is tight integration between device and server, and use that to compete with other devices.”