What defines a "superphone?"
For Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), superphones are essentially code for newfangled smartphones based on the company's QNX operating system, the well-regarded platform RIM acquired last year to serve as the basis for its BlackBerry Playbook tablet.
RIM co-CEOS Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis have both said the superphones were intended to compete with Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) popular iPhone and the crop of handsets based on Google's (NYSE:GOOG) Android operating system. Those top two platforms have blown past RIM's BlackBerry in every way conceivable, which is
evident in thedeclining market share of the BlackBerry.
RIM has yet to describe how its QNX handsets will be "super," though market watchers expected handsets with big, bright touch-screens powered by 1GHz dual-core or faster processors in keeping with the latest trends. Well, the first details to emerge about the superphones suggest the devices RIM intends to release to challenge those leading platforms may not be so super.
Boy Genius Report reported that RIM is currently testing a QNX-based "Colt" superphone. However, this device, which is expected to appear in the first quarter next year-or roughly six months from now-employs only a single-core CPU. Multi-core CPUs will come in future phones, according to the blog.
Moreover, Boy Genius Report noted that while RIM is working on a version of the BES (BlackBerry Enterprise Server) tailored for QNX to support native email (something the PlayBook does not do), the Colt QNX smartphone will launch without support for the BES.
This means no native email or push capabilities. Moreover, companies that want to use Microsoft Exchange email on the device must use Microsoft ActiveSync, which the phone will support out-of-the-box.
Jefferies & Co analyst Peter Misek had a similar take. He said Aug. 9 that his channel checks did show RIM "was having issues with multi-core chipsets and its BES/BIS infrastructure for QNX."
"RIM management has referred to their QNX phones as "superphones," but we find these specs uncompelling," Misek wrote. "We see this as nothing more than ditching features, functionality and performance in an attempt to adhere to a Q1 launch commitment to carriers and partners."
However, industry analyst Jack Gold said he wasn't so concerned about the number of cores the superphones' chips have, but about overall performance.
"You can't directly equate the number of cores on phones with their overall performance, just as you can't in a PC," Gold told eWEEK. "Yes, theoretically, multi-core performs better, but not always. So the "cores-manship" like the GHz-manship is not the only criteria of measurement."
It's also important to note that the Colt is purportedly in the testing phase, and things could very well change between now and its supposed Q1 2012 launch. Gold said the Colt could be an engineering model that could be upgraded. Moreover, he noted that BlackBerry devices that RIM just announced are dual-core and QNX already runs on multi-core, "so the OS is not an issue here."
However, if all of BGR details are true, the Colt QNX phone would likely receive a tepid reception, which would bring more damage to the company's diminished reputation to keep up with Android and iPhone innovation.
That could be disastrous for, not only RIM's positioning of superphones among consumers, but also the company's enterprise market channel, RIM's bread and butter, Misek said. He wrote: "We would become incrementally more bearish if RIM were to launch an underpowered and non-BES/BIS-linked BlackBerry powered by QNX. We believe it would harm consumer perceptions and would likely encourage enterprises to seriously evaluate alternative solutions."
And if businesses had to resort to using Microsoft's ActiveSync to support Microsoft Exchange email on the QNX phone, Misek said this could lead to a permanent shift away from the BlackBerry platform.
Yet Gold isn't buying into the assumption that the first RIM superphone won't be email-compliant, noting that RIM has promised to bring out a native email client for PlayBook in the next couple of months.
"So if there is a BES-complaint email client for PB, why would it not run on the QNX phone? And if they do allow ActiveSync connectivity, that would not be a bad thing, as many SMBs would rather bypass BES anyway and go direct to Exchange. So I see an either/or scenario with both BES and ActiveSync support as a positive thing."
Still, Gold did acknowledge that RIM has to nail the superphones to succeed against iPhone and Android. "A half-baked device will not do much to recapture their market share, and will certainly diminish their credibility. But I believe management knows this very well, and I don't believe they will make that mistake."