RIM, HTC bet on HSPA

10 Jun 2008

The smartphone market got a big dose of excitement last month with the launch of the much-anticipated BlackBerry Bold and Touch Diamond phones, by RIM and Taiwan OEM High Tech Computer.

While the two devices naturally draw comparisons to the upcoming 3G iPhone, the BlackBerry Bold and Touch Diamond have shown the market that they have something to win over customers in Asia. For one, both gadgets have won praise in many reviews with their impressive features and design.

The BlackBerry Bold, also known as the 9000, supports HSPA/UMTS tri-band (850/1900/2100) - the first BlackBerry device supporting so-called 3.5G. It is expected to significantly help the Canadian vendor complete in the increasingly HSPA-dominated smartphone market against handset makers like Nokia.

Ovum analyst Nathan Burley said that like Apple at the iPhone launch, RIM has long been an advocate of EDGE. He said although EDGE and its evolution have significant prospects, the technology will predominately be a fallback for HSPA in RIM's key markets, instead of being a substitute.

"3G migration is well under way in RIM's core developed markets. In many, national 3G coverage is already in place, with 2G/EDGE confined to legacy device support only," he added. "Here 2G is quickly becoming a discount graveyard - far from the place RIM should position its market leading handsets."

Burley said if RIM has positioned the Bold well, it can boost usage of multimedia and other data-hungry applications beyond email, for which HSPA is the logical technology.

Additionally, the device will also help drive success among 3G-only operators especially in markets such as Korea and Japan where RIM has failed to gain much traction, he said.

Similarly, the Window Mobile 6.01-powered Touch Diamond - the first major update to HTC's core Touch model since its launch a year ago - is also positioned for the emerging HSPA market, with full HSPA support for 3G internet access, including 7.2-Mbps downloads and faster uploads than on ordinary HSPA. Like the Bold, the device is also equipped with GPS and Wi-Fi, together with 4-GB storage, a microSD card slot and an upgraded 3.2-megapixel camera.

But most significantly the handset incorporates HTC's new TouchFLO 3D interface, which allows users to access messaging, media and other features without reverting to stylus or the directional pad.

Such feature, said Tony Cripps, senior analyst at Ovum, offers many of the dynamic effects and ease of use now expected in high-end, post-iPhone devices. It also submerges the native Windows Mobile UI, except for less frequently used features and applications or for power users.

"Overall, we felt the Touch Diamond could become the first Windows Mobile device to reach the market that is desirable as a device in its own right, rather than for its familiarity or for its integration with the Windows desktop," he commented.

He said although the Touch Diamond is not designed to be an iPhone copy, it represents a genuine alternative to the latter and provides a strong sense of where mobile phones can and will go from here.

By no coincident, the Bold and Touch Diamond are slated to hit the market in June, the same time the 3G iPhone reportedly goes on sale.

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