Will the BlackBerry Torch Save RIM?

Research In Motion held an unusual meeting in New York City on Tuesday. What was unusual was that it held the meeting. This is very unlike RIM. It introduced a new device called the “BlackBerry Torch 9800” and a new operating system.

BlackBerry Torch 9800

BlackBerry Torch 9800

This is RIM’s next-generation device, which has both a touchscreen and keypad. It has a newer and better Web browser and other features, and it looks hot. The new OS is perhaps the most important part of the announcement. It tries to leapfrog the company to the front of the line. The question is, will it? Will this device catapult a stumbling RIM back onto an exciting growth path?

This is being written right after the event, so I have not had the chance to use the device or OS yet. More will come on that at a later date. This is about the announcement and what it means going forward for Research In Motion, AT&T Mobility, customers and investors.

This finally answers the question we have been asking RIM co-CEO’s Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. What is next to help put RIM back on track?

A Marketplace Full of Winners

It’s important to realize that no one wants RIM to struggle. Everyone wants the company to succeed and for everyone to benefit. However, it has not really innovated in years. That may not have been a problem over the last decade, but ever since Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android OS hit the market, things are changing quickly.

Will the Torch and BlackBerry 6 successfully compete against the Apple iPhone and Google Android? I think there are a variety of different customer groups in the marketplace that want different things. Choice has been limited. They could either by an Apple iPhone or… well, that was it. Then Google introduced its Android OS, and a slew of smartphones followed, notably the Droid on Verizon Wireless. More choice. Now RIM is introducing another device and operating system. Even more choice.

The more different devices there are to choose from, the happier the marketplace will be. Yes, I think this device and OS will be attractive to the RIM customer who may have been thinking of leaving for one of the company’s competitors. That’s now less likely to happen.

Will this save every RIM customer who was thinking of leaving? No. Some are attracted to the Apple or Google brand, and some just want to change. However, there are plenty of RIM customers who would have left, but now won’t because of this new device.

So, I see this as less about winning customers from other device makers, and more about expanding the marketplace and giving customers the ability to find the exact device they want.

As the marketplace matures and expands, it becomes more customer-oriented than company-oriented. I don’t see it being full of winner and losers. Instead, I see it full of winners; it’s just that some win more than others. I also expect to see more devices from companies like Dell and Lenovo — and others as well.

Less Buzz Than Hum

One thing I did notice at the RIM event that was new for RIM. It was put together to generate lots of energy, but I did not sense the kind of excitement I expected. This was RIM’s attempt, but it is just a quieter personality. More business-oriented. That has served the company well over the years — and there’s nothing really was wrong with that approach — but things are changing.

Going forward, if RIM wants to compete in the consumer marketplace, it has to learn to be bigger and bolder and more in your face. It has to attract attention from customers, the media and investors. It has to continually innovate.

Will this new OS and device help RIM increase its falling market share? Good question. I do think this will help it reduce its rate of loss. It will let them hang on to more customers. However, growth is a different story. It could happen, but we will have to wait and see. It is less certain.

RIM needs to look at this as the first of many steps to become the new company we are all expecting it to become. It attempted that a few years ago with the Storm but flopped.

RIM has not updated itself in years. Not since the Storm. Will it be more successful this time? That is the question we are all asking. This should not be a singular event. RIM needs to continue this new high-profile way of doing things.

What This Means for AT&T

I think AT&T sees this as a big win. It doesn’t compete against Apple and Google like RIM does. Instead, it does business with all of them and competes against Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile. So, this just gives AT&T more ammunition to win customers.

Ralph de la Vega, the CEO of AT&T Mobility, was at the event, and he said this will just make both RIM and AT&T Mobility stronger in the marketplace — but for different reasons. RIM now has a cutting-edge device to help it compete in the marketplace, and AT&T has another great device for the lineup customers get to choose from.

It’s all about more choices, said de la Vega. Whatever the customer wants, AT&T will be able to offer it with this new RIM device, in addition to the Apple iPhone and several Androids.

As for RIM, this gives it a new tool to attract young customers who may have been lured away by competitors. This is just what the company needs. However, it is only a partial victory. It needs to continue down this path.

RIM could even start to see growth again if it were to continue to reinvent itself — that is, if this is just the first in a string of similar innovative approaches to the new marketplace.

So, while this was definitely cutting-edge for RIM in comparison to Apple and Google, it was just not over and above. For customers who like RIM and want to stay, this gives them a reason to stay. However, I don’t think the other companies are worried about losing business to RIM.

Investors are wondering what is next. I think this is a good first step but not the complete answer. This is a story more about helping RIM slow losses rather than gain new business — at least today. This will keep RIM in the game.

It sounds strange to wonder what is next when this is so new, but that is my question. That was Motorola’s mistake after the hot Razr. Nothing next.

RIM needs to build its app store to attract new customers. It doesn’t have enough Apps yet to attract the larger youth community, but it may be able to carve its own app niche. Not every customer cares about apps, though. Many are happy with the basics. This device looks like it has that covered.

I think it’s fair to say that I like RIM and want it to succeed, but that means it has to wake up, innovate, and remain interesting to the customer. So I think this is a great next step from RIM. Hopefully, this will be one in a series of steps that will help the company shake off its old stuffy attitude and grow again and regain its greatness. We’ll see.

Jeff Kagan is an E-Commerce Times columnist and a wireless, telecom and technology analyst, author and consultant. Email him at [email protected].

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