The BlackBerry Torch 9800, Research In Motion's attempt at capturing both the consumer and business smartphone markets, officially launched on Aug. 12. In addition to a capacitive touch-screen and sliding QWERTY keyboard, the device includes the company's new BlackBerry 6 operating system.
The release comes at a time when RIM finds itself facing considerable competition from products such as the Apple iPhone and Google Android. A recent survey by Nielsen found that brand loyalty for BlackBerry paled in comparison to its rivals, a finding that may have set off alarms in Ottawa.
"Among current subscribers thinking of switching devices, the iPhone remains the most desired phone, finding loyalty with nearly 90 percent of current iPhone users and enticing healthy slices of Android users (21 percent) and Blackberry owners (29 percent) to consider the move to Apple," the research firm noted in an Aug. 2 corporate blog posting.
"Android's loyalty among switchers (71 percent) outperforms BlackBerry (42 percent)," the posting said, "where half of its users could potentially choose an iPhone or an Android phone for its next device."
RIM's BlackBerry 6 emphasizes multimedia features in addition to traditional business applications-whether the unified social networking feeds, the wireless synching with the DRM-free (Digital Rights Management-free) music on a user's PC, or even how the new Universal Search feature allows users to scan Websites such as YouTube. RIM also tweaked features such as the camera interface to make the devices more user-friendly.
According to some analysts, RIM desperately needed an update capable of matching Apple's and Google's advances.
"In order to create a bulwark against incursions in their market from Apple and Google, RIM needs to expand its footprint," Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research, told eWEEK in an Aug. 3 interview. "RIM became the device of choice in the business market because they represented the cutting edge of that market five, six, seven years ago."
The multimedia aspects, King added, could theoretically appeal to business users in the market for a device capable of playing MP3 files along with displaying their e-mail.
RIM evidently sees the Torch 9800's release as an opportunity to upgrade its other BlackBerry-related products. On Aug. 12, the company announced version 5.0.2 of its free BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express software, which synchronizes a company's smartphones to Microsoft Exchange and Windows Small Business Server. The updates include self-service tools for securing a lost or stolen device; new Web browser support for Blackberry Administration Service and BlackBerry Web Desktop Manager; and added support for Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft Hyper-V 2008 and SQL Server 2008.
Those improvements mirror earlier updates for RIM's premium BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.2. BlackBerry Enterprise Server Express, however, is aimed at SMBs-an increasingly enticing target for enterprise-centric tech companies looking to expand their customer portfolios.
More on the consumer side, RIM also released BlackBerry Desktop Software 6.0, which allows for streamlined synching of media content between a PC and BlackBerry handsets. The software is compatible with Microsoft Outlook, Windows Calendar, IBM Lotus Notes and Yahoo.
Now that RIM has released the Torch, will consumers and businesses gravitate toward it? The early sales numbers, likely available within the next week or two, will suggest whether the company's next-generation gamble can pay off.