Does BlackBerry Really Need a Camera?

BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) has undergone quite a few transitions during the past couple of years. Most notably, the Canadian company made a major shift from its former role as a strictly enterprise-centric firm to an equally business- and consumer-focused high-tech vendor.

That push to embrace the consumer masses led to a number of valuable BlackBerry hardware and software modifications, including the addition of multimedia features, such as media players, 3.5mm headphone jacks and, of course, the inclusion of digital cameras. The problem: Some of RIM's longtime business customers either don't want or prohibit digital cameras on their premises.

RIM's latest five BlackBerry devices all sport digital cameras, including the Pearl Flip 82xx, Curve 8350i, Bold 9000--all of which have two-megapixel shooters--Storm 95xx and the second-gen Curve 8900--which both feature 3.2-megapixel cameras. That means any organization or business user who wants to upgrade to one of those shiny new ‘Berrys must be willing and able to deal with a built-in digital camera.

For some organizations and enterprises with strict security regulations or no-camera policies, such as government agencies and financial services firms, or companies with employees who travel in and out of high security facilities, this is less than ideal.

RIM's certainly aware of the issue, and in the past it has not only offered devices without cameras, it created special IT policies for its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) that could disable business users' BlackBerry cameras. IT admins can even deactivate cameras remotely. (IT policies specifically meant to disable multimedia features like cameras and expandable memory slots were first introduced in 2006, in BES v4.0.6 and v4.1.2, along with the BlackBerry Pearl 8100.)

Right now, there are at least two camera-less BlackBerry models available from RIM: the BlackBerry 87xx and the 88xx. The BlackBerry 87xx was announced in November 2005, the 8800 in February 2007. In other words, both smartphones are a bit long in the tooth, and it's time for RIM to retire them.

So should RIM release another camera-less ‘Berry to appease customers for whom IT policies just aren't enough? Companies trust the BES to protect a plethora of sensitive information behind their corporate firewalls, so why shouldn't they feel equally comfortable with the BES disabling their users' cameras?

RIM should continue to offer at least one BlackBerry without a camera, if for no other reason than to satisfy the organizations that simply don't allow cameras--disabled or not--within their facilities. Such a device would likely need to be a different version of another camera-equipped BlackBerry, as the market for camera-less devices isn't large. For example, RIM could release a BlackBerry Curve 8905 without a camera on T-Mo in addition to the camera-laden Curve 8900.

Sure, the market for such a device will be small, and it may require a different sort of marketing strategy to reach the right potential users. But I can tell you that from speaking with CIOs and other IT managers that there's significant demand for camera-less ‘Berrys. There are also many business users still employing 87xx and 88xx devices for this exact reason. (Think: BarackBerry.)

What's your take? Are IT policies to disable digital cameras enough? Or should RIM continue to release camera-less BlackBerrys?

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter

Comments