RIM needs to make the BlackBerry business-sexy

End users rule, and tacking on bare-bones media features won't cut it

Last week at an event in New York, Research In Motion introduced its latest smartphone , the BlackBerry Torch, along with the most recent update of the operating system, BlackBerry 6. As you might expect, RIM's CEO touted all of the new hardware and software features. Less expected from enterprise -friendly RIM, though: Everything was geared toward the consumer. The talk was of touch screens and multitouch gestures, photo tagging and cataloguing, media and music synchronization, and the integration of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook .

All of this from a company whose core customers not so long ago wanted devices that specifically did not have cameras, did not play music and did not do anything that wasn't directly related to business.

But it wasn't just that these consumer features were being highlighted. It was also noteworthy that nothing was said about the core functions that have made RIM and BlackBerry the darling of the IT organization. There wasn't one mention of RIM's best-of-breed management capabilities, tight security and encryption, or the ability to integrate into scores of business applications.

This press event simply underscored for me an important trend that I've already discussed: When it comes to mobile, it's not necessarily what IT thinks is important; it's what the end user thinks. All of those issues that historically have been RIM's strengths are super important to the IT professional. None of them matters all that much to the consumer making the purchase.

I understand why RIM is taking this approach. After all, it pretty much has the business market locked up, and probably close to saturation. And if RIM were to keep doing what it has always done with the BlackBerry, then it could very well face loss of market share. That's because end users are starting to demand the sorts of smartphone features they can find on new and flashy devices that run iOS and Android , putting pressure on IT to allow those devices into the organization as a corporate standard.

So, how is RIM likely to fare in this new, user-dominated world? On the basis of the Torch, it has a lot of work to do. RIM's consumer-friendly technology compares poorly to other companies' end-user-focused devices. The Torch display is fairly small and low resolution compared to the 4.3-in. screens of the Droid X or the EVO 4G, and it looks ugly and pixelated when directly compared to the super-high-resolution Retina Display of the iPhone 4. RIM's application marketplace trails Android and iOS by several orders of magnitude, and the overall consumer experience is far less polished than the competition.

When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, RIM refocused efforts on the business user while Apple targeted the mass market. The first iPhone clearly could not meet business needs. Over time, however, both Apple and Google , while wooing the mass market, have made huge strides in adding more business-required support, positioning themselves to capture the hearts and minds of both the business user and the consumer, who in many cases are one and the same.

RIM's challenge now is to keep delivering on the needs of the enterprise while at the same time packing the BlackBerry with the sexiest features that will truly drive end-user interest. If it doesn't do this well, RIM is likely to lose share and ultimately become no more than a footnote in the mobile market that it helped create and define a decade ago.

Michael Gartenberg is a partner at Altimeter Group . His blog can be found at Gartenblog.net . Contact him at gartenberg AT gmail DOT com . The views expressed here are his own.

Read more about mobile and wireless in Computerworld's Mobile and Wireless Topic Center.

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