Cell Canada

Canadian Cellular Industry News, Insight, & Noise

Blackberry Thunder – RIM Takes A Risk

Posted by Gary on July 20, 2008

Yes this is a bit premature.  The Thunder is not out yet and at best we have rumours on design and specs and photoshopped images.  However I thought I’d touch on it given that, with all the buzz around competitive responses to the iPhone from the major mobile handset manufacturers, this is the one that I believe has the most potential. 

No doubt the Samsung Instinct, the HTC Touch Diamond, the Sony Ericsson Xperia, and the Nokia Tube will have their strengths and given carrier marketing dollars, will take some market share.  Some, especially Nokia with it’s huge Forum Nokia developer community, will have the backing of developers, and most of them will have superior hardware specs to the iPhone – better cameras, video, etc.  However I don’t expect that any will capture the mass market consumer’s aspirational interest the way the iPhone has captured it.  They will not have the Apple brand image, the incredibly simple and elegant UI, and most of all, the fully integrated and well developed App Store.  Download portals – yes probably – but a simple, easy to use, fully capable application download function with discovery, one touch download and install, and a simple integrated payment mechanism – probably not.  And that is why they will remain also rans.  Many will promote how packed they are with superior hardware functions but the Internet scale innovation that a fully integrated App Store brings will be missing and with it, the weekly and monthly buzz about the latest and greatest must have application.  “Have you heard about Shazam?  It’s a super cool new app that…”

Current expectations have the Thunder arriving in September but given that the Blackberry Bold will probably land around then, expect RIM to clear some PR time for the Bold before beginning the Thunder PR press.  So Thunder in time for the Christmas season or early 1Q2009?   Mobile sales have taken up the retail sales cycle pattern over the last 3-5 years and the Christmas season now represents a significantly disproportionate amount of a carrier’s annual sales.  Given this, expect that RIM’s and it’s partners Verizon and Vodaphone will be pushing hard for a pre-Christmas release.  No word on a Canadian partner or date yet.

So why is the Thunder so interesting.  It will probably have a weak download portal like the other competitors and RIM has typically received poor reviews for its difficult developer tools.  The Thunder is interesting because RIM, similar to Apple, understands its market very well and knows how to laser focus product into its market.  They usually do not try to pack in the best set of hardware features and a kitchen sink into their high end products but instead understand the basic needs of the corporate market and fulfill those needs better than anyone.  Heavy email, high security, Exchange integration.  No one beats RIM in the corporation.  With the Thunder, RIM is taking a risk going keyboard-less but I expect that it is a well thought out risk and we may be very pleasantly surprised by the innovation in their touchscreen keyboard.  Current rumours list a soft keyboard with tactile feedback, full QWERTY and SureType entry, and multi-touch capability.  Add a Webkit browser and it gets interesting.  A RIM device, with BES integration, an innovative touch keyboard, and the most focused corporate needs execution, could hold back or slow down the iPhone’s push into the corporate world.  Or conversely, if RIM can’t hold it’s corporate turf against Apple, then Apple will own everything – the consumer market and the enterprise market.

 UPDATE: The Blackberry Thunder / Storm on video!

(I know there is a large camp that pines for a white knight in Android but I’m not drinking the kool-aid.  Android introduces more noise in an already noisy mobile OS ecosystem.  If anything, LiMo may be a stronger open source player than Android.  More on Mobile OS’s in another post.)

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