BlackBerry, iPhone Raise Mobile Stakes

RIM and Apple are eyeing each other's turf as new smart phones blur the line between enterprise and consumer devices.

RIM's WES2008 CONFAB - the annual conference of all things BlackBerry began and ended with rumors that Research in Motion plans to introduce a touch screen version of its new BlackBerry Bold. RIM is mum on the issue, but the speculation is racing through the blogosphere and rumor mills.

Why not? With the introduction of the BlackBerry Bold May 12, RIM loaded its news flagship platform with a number of features like GPS, Wi-Fi and video capture, positioning the device closer to the retail consumer market while strengthening its traditional enterprise features.

Most intriguing was the Bold's new screen: a half VGA screen with resolution to match Apple's iPhone. RIM, though, dashed pre-conference rumors by making the Bold sans touch screen and loaded with the company's hallmark chiclet keyboard, which RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said was the choice of most BlackBerry users.

But it's an easy stretch to see BlackBerry adding a touch technology to its high-end smart phones. The Wall Street Journal lit the rumor fires again May 17 with a report that RIM plans to launch a touch-screen version of its device in the third quarter.

RIM also announced a deal with Microsoft to offer Windows Live Hotmail and Messenger on all BlackBerry smart phones, edging RIM even closer to the consumer market. Messenger users will be offered a full range of peer-to-peer messaging, including the ability to save messages, customize status messages, use avatars and the use of more than 60 emoticons.

BlackBerry Eyes Touch Screen, Consumers

With all these iPhone-like multimedia features, about all the BlackBerry lacks is a touch screen to ape the iPhone experience. RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie even speculated he wouldn't be surprised "if it gets picked up by the consumer."

Apple, meanwhile, endured a week of gushing reviews for the Bold and its potential to rival the iPhone as a consumer device even as Cupertino preps for the iPhone's 3G version debut as early as next month. With the announcement, the table will be set for an interesting battle between RIM, which dominates the enterprise market, and Apple, the darling of the consumer trade.

Both are eyeing each other's handsome market share, but Tony Rizzo, an analyst with The 451 Group, said in a May 13 advisory that RIM can expect more success in the consumer market than Apple will in the enterprise space.

"RIM is no longer a mobile office/e-mail player. It has evolved into a deeply embedded enterprise vendor, and we continue to push this as the key differentiator," Rizzo wrote. "So, while Apple, Nokia, Motorola and now HTC Corp continue to compete on enterprise hardware designs, they cannot stack up to RIM in terms of the enterprise ecosystems RIM has in place."

Rizzo added, "This remains a crucial difference that will make competition here almost meaningless."

On the consumer side, Rizzo said, the landscape is more competitive.

"The battle for higher-end consumers has escalated significantly. The next iPhone will boast 3G and may get out the door before the Bold, but it will be quite interesting to see how the Bold does as a prosumer device," Rizzo wrote. "Our view remains that RIM and Apple are 'market complementary' and that each will continue to find its own set of users."