RIM Fights to Retain or Regain BlackBerry Relevance

Research in Motion (RIM)--makers of all things BlackBerry--is reportedly developing a new, more iPhone-like BlackBerry smartphone, as well as working on a BlackBerry OS tablet to compete with the Apple iPad, and the rest of the tablet onslaught. The BlackBerry product line has been stagnant and slipping in market share, and these new initiatives may let RIM get its mojo back.

RIM is working on a new smartphone and tablet to compete with the iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.
BlackBerry is the dominant smartphone operating system, but the stale devices and lack of innovation have allowed the iPhone, and Android smartphones like the Droid Incredible to chip away steadily at its market share. Recent comScore data shows RIM with about 42 percent of the smartphone market, with Apple coming in second at just over 25 percent.

A 17 percent lead seems significant enough, but unfortunately for RIM that gap is only about half of what it was a year ago. Meanwhile, Android smartphones seem to be an invasion force that both RIM and Apple should be concerned about.

Until now, RIM has been able to more or less coast on its established reputation as the de facto mobile communications and computing platform for businesses. Recent reports from AT&T, though, suggest that as many as four in ten iPhones are being bought for business use, and Microsoft is prepared to launch a renewed attack later this year with Windows Phone 7.

The BlackBerry Storm--RIM's previous stab at emulating the iPhone touchscreen experience--never really posed much of a threat. It was more like a consolation prize for business professionals tied to BlackBerry who wished they could have an iPhone.

According to reports, the new BlackBerry smartphone will be much more iPhone-like, however it doesn't seem to blaze any new trails or raise the bar in any way. Multi-touch gestures, pinch-to-zoom, and swiping are simply expected behaviors at this point, and the rumored 4Gb of internal storage and 5-megapixel camera are on the low end of what the current generation of smartphones already deliver.

The BlackBerry OS tablet is a little more innovative--at least in its connectivity. It is intended to be a companion device to a BlackBerry smartphone rather than a standalone platform. From the sound of it, it will not have its own wireless connectivity, but will rely on some sort of tethering with a BlackBerry in order to connect to the Internet or Web-based resources.

There may be some advantages to that approach for RIM's core market in the business world. Not only would the symbiotic relationship require customers to purchase both a BlackBerry smartphone and the BlackBerry tablet, but perhaps the lack of separate connectivity may have some implications for IT administrators managing the devices. Provisioning, monitoring and securing the mobile devices might be simplified if the IT admin only really needs to be concerned with the BlackBerry smartphone. That is pure speculation on my part, though.

It remains to be seen if RIM is going to deliver anything that either Apple or Android need to be concerned with. But, if RIM can at least provide a smartphone and/or tablet experience roughly on par with the iPhone and Android equivalents, perhaps it can stop the hemorrhaging of market share and regain some lost relevance in the mobile computing and communications arenas.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page , or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com . He also tweets as @Tony_BradleyPCW .

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