BlackBerry's 'Bold' consumer play

Tim Renowden/Ovum
17 Sep 2008

Research in Motion (RIM) is taking big strides towards extending the success of its BlackBerry products into the consumer market.

Along with a refreshed BlackBerry line-up, RIM has recently announced a number of applications and services for consumers, adding some serious social networking and multimedia credentials to BlackBerry's traditional strength in push email. These announcements are positive moves for RIM, but Ovum would like to see a broader range of 3G BlackBerry devices pitched at consumers who are interested in the BlackBerry, currently own a 3G handset, but cannot afford the Bold.

"Is that the new BlackBerry‾ Is it better than the iPhone‾"

These questions, from an eager airport security officer in Toronto (Ovum was returning from RIM's Industry Analyst Summit), provide a quick demonstration of the interest that RIM's new handsets are generating with consumers. The curious security officer's interest was piqued by RIM's recently introduced flagship device, the BlackBerry Bold. While the iPhone and the Bold are very different devices and will appeal to different buyers, we do think the Bold will help to shake off the BlackBerry's staid corporate image and add some excitement to the brand.

RIM claims the Bold was named for its "sharp and bold" screen (it is certainly both of these things). It is a powerful high-end 3G device with features including new version 4.6 software, a new-look UI, a new Web browser, Wi-Fi, GPS, a 2 megapixel camera and support for a wide range of video and audio codecs. This sort of feature set has become the minimum required to compete with high-end handsets from other manufacturers, and the Bold will rely on the strengths of the BlackBerry services (the platform is still the clear leader in mobile email) to differentiate itself.

Conversely, the Pearl Flip is the new entry-level model, targeted at first-time BlackBerry users and younger buyers. It is also likely to be introduced into the prepaid market. The Pearl Flip is heavily based on the existing Pearl series, using the same cut-down SureType keypad and similar hardware specs (quad-band GSM/EDGE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) in the flip form factor that is so popular in the North American market (according to RIM, 60% of North American consumers use flip phones). The Pearl Flip is clearly focused on North America - with no 3G access, marketing the device to consumers in European or Asia-Pacific markets where 3G is well and truly established will be tricky. 3G will only become more important as RIM adds more data-intensive consumer applications (such as content sharing and streaming applications). The Flip is not a compact device, and although it is not unattractive, nor is it likely to attract fashion-conscious buyers.

The success of the BlackBerry in the enterprise space has always been due to RIM's ability to deliver managed services over its proprietary platform - particularly push email - with this end-to-end approach providing advantages in security and quality of service. As it pushes into the consumer market, RIM is leveraging this experience and architecture and applying it to more consumer-friendly applications and services.

However, for developers and service providers to take advantage of the BlackBerry push technology they must cede some control to RIM; this may begin to concern network operators if RIM's services begin to inhibit the operators' ability to roll out their own competing services (this is an issue for any major device manufacturer rolling out their own services - especially Apple and Nokia).

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