Phones: Bold, Torch, Curve
Entered market: 1999
Latest Model: Bold 9900, Torch 9860
RIM's future plans and development
- Premium business phone, with highly secure email and messaging, and a suite of applications for reading and editing documents and spreadsheets
- Reputation for well-constructed, if not exceptionally stylish handsets
- Tight integration between handset and operating system, leading to smooth, rapid performance
- Offer several top models with hardware (QWERTY) keyboards
- Very few 3rd party apps to increase functionality, though BlackBerry App World is growing
- High-priced, low-spec phones fail to attract tech-hungry consumers
RIM has slowed down its production after losing hundreds of millions of dollars on The Playbook, a well designed tablet with some major shortcomings. The current releases, the Bold 9900 and Torch 9860, have departed somewhat from BlackBerry’s usual form factor. These capable handsets will help determine whether BlackBerry will offer more touchscreen, or stick to their business-friendly hardware keyboards. BlackBerry’s real competition is Apple – both companies release well designed, somewhat low-powered handsets running proprietary software in a smooth, integrated way. And like Apple, BlackBerry does not reveal too much about its future plans.
The friendly Nokia 5110 was the first phone that seemed to tap into the consumer need for a personal, cuddly pocket assistant, while Motorola’s StarTAC attracted those who wanted to look as much like Blade Runner as technology permitted. When RIM introduced the BlackBerry in 1999, the company managed to find a middle ground – a friendly looking device built with rock-solid materials including a full-fledged email client protected by Canadian military servers. For several years, the BlackBerry was either what you used or what you were waiting to upgrade to if you were using your phone for business, at least in North America. Australia and much of the rest of the world occasionally read about the “CrackBerry”epidemic, but had to make do with offerings from Palm and Nokia for business-class phones.
By the time the BlackBerry started expanding globally (and into consumer markets), attention had turned to Apple’s iPhone. No-one does consumer lust like Apple, and suddenly the BlackBerry found itself out in the cold. Business people scoffed at the iPhone as a kids toy, while the BlackBerry was preferred for the more sober-minded, especially those who felt they needed a physical keyboard. But soon the ease-of-use of Apple’s offering proved too tempting, and the BlackBerry had to play catch up. The first few attempts to offer full browsing failed miserably, with cheap tracking balls compromising RIM’s reputation for solid engineering, and a cramped screen fighting for real estate with an increasingly outdated keyboard.
RIM made some moves in 2009 and 2010 to right the course. The still-highly regarded email client was licensed for use on other phones. RIM started to go full screen on some of their offerings, while retaining the keyboard on others. The product line was simplified by offering three categories: Bold (good specs, tighter design, fancy materials), the Torch (top specs, more power) and the Curve (entry level specs, cheaper design, good price).
These moves helped RIM retain status as premium manufacturers, but the decision to develop one of the first serious iPad competitors, the Playbook, almost destroyed that reputation. The Playbook was a powerful, well built machine that did almost nothing it was meant to, and didn’t offer email unless tethered to a BlackBerry mobile. This ponderous move has hurt RIM’s reputation and bottom line, but more importantly it has diverted the company’s attention away from its phones. Marketplace
The BlackBerry has never quite caught the public’s imagination in Australia, never capturing more than a few percentage points in the market. Many are confused by BlackBerry’s dual status as a service provider and a manufacturer (in a way that Apple has never needed to explain). This status has also made the BlackBerry an uneasy fit for Australia’s big telcos, all of which want very badly to splash their own services across the devices on offer. The BlackBerry still has some cache as a business phone, and the latest models are well built and feature rich. But with a stuffiness that scares away teenagers and a rapidly diminishing niche that no longer appeals to the entrepreneurial types, it’s going to take some serious re-invention for BlackBerry to remain relevant. Luckily, the recent offerings have been very promising. Blackberry providers
None of the big telcos push the BlackBerry with any great enthusiasm, but they all carry the latest models of the Torch and Bold lines. Vodafone offers the Bold 9700 for $5 on the $65 plan on a 24 month contract
. Amongst the BYO providers, it’s hard to beat Amaysim’s $39.90 unlimited plan
, which comes with unlimited standard voice and text, and a whopping 4GB of data.
A BlackBerry is still best suited to those for whom data privacy and durability are the most important factors. BBM, BlackBerry’s personal instant messaging service, is feature rich, allowing for group chats, picture messages and even audio notes – all without having to pay your carrier. BlackBerry is having some trouble reaching customers who want as much tech as their dollar can buy, but are slowly meeting demand for more feature rich phones that don’t compromise BlackBerry’s core values.