Michael Finneran
Michael F. Finneran, is President of dBrn Associates, Inc., a full service advisory firm specializing in wireless and mobility; services...
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Michael Finneran | January 21, 2013 |


RIM Slow on the (Key)boards

RIM Slow on the (Key)boards The company seems to be grabbing at the "brass ring" in touch screens while thumbing its nose at a "sure bet" with the remaining few BlackBerry loyalists.

The company seems to be grabbing at the "brass ring" in touch screens while thumbing its nose at a "sure bet" with the remaining few BlackBerry loyalists.

In a move I can hardly believe (much less understand) Bloomberg is reporting that RIM will not release a prototype of the first BB10 smartphone with a physical keyboard until sometime after the planned (and it better be "executed") release of the new operating system on January 30. Like the keyless prototype that was released in May of last year, the Dev Alpha C, as the keyboard prototype will be called, won't be identical to the final models that are produced, however it is important to developers for testing, as the screen will obviously be a lot smaller and with different controls than the keyless version. We can safely assume the keyboard version will also feature a touch screen as we have seen on the last of the "old generation" BlackBerrys, the Bold 9900.

In a key break with the past (no pun intended), CEO Thorsten Heins has said he expects the touch version to account for most orders in the BB10 models; if you don't have a keyboard model I guess that's a pretty safe bet. However, he is taking a major gamble on this one. From the Storm to the Torch, RIM has had a hard time with touchscreens, and RIM has got to score a win with BB10 if it's to have any hope of being more than a niche player in the smartphone business. That is certainly true for the US market, but as iPhone and the variety of Android devices are introduced to more parts of the world, we can only believe that BlackBerry's fortunes in those markets will wane just they have here.

The scary part is that the only "positive" comments I ever hear from the dwindling BlackBerry tribe is, "Man, do I love that keyboard!" Anyone who has ever sold anything knows that your best prospects are always your existing customers. I've seen demonstrations of the BB10 touch keyboard, and it's pretty nice, but if your last few customers are telling you, "I WANT A KEYBOARD!" don't you think it would be a good idea to listen? In the meantime, RIM hasn't even indicated when we might see the first BB10 device with a real keyboard.

I get the company's urgency to catch up with the market, which has clearly moved en masse to touch screens, but RIM is betting their new models will be strong enough to unseat the incumbents. The only other thing I can think is they have simply "given up" on the US market (and the markets in most developed countries) and will focus their efforts on maintaining and growing their shares in those markets where RIM is still a factor--also a tough order to fill. The clock is ticking, and I think Mr. Heins is sticking his neck way out on grabbing the "brass ring" in touch screens while thumbing his nose at a "sure bet" with the remaining few BlackBerry loyalists.

Well, the BB10 launch is just around the corner, and maybe the new platform will be as awe inspiring as what RIM has been promising. It had better be, because RIM is taking the field with its best player in the dugout, and who knows for how long.

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