A Closer Look at the BlackBerry Torch 9800

By  Jeff Goldman — August 07, 2010

Research In Motion recently announced the upcoming launch of the BlackBerry Torch 9800. The new smartphone, which will be made available to AT&T customers starting on August 12, 2010, offers several unique features which differentiate it from past BlackBerry devices -- it's the company's first combined touchscreen/keyboard slider device, and the first to launch with BlackBerry 6.

Pund-IT Research principal analyst Charles King says the Torch 9800 offers a good combination of enterprise and consumer functionality. "It's an interesting mix of the traditional features and standards that BlackBerry and RIM are well known for... along with some media-centric additions like a 5 MP camera, easier web browsing, and social networking features," he says.

While some early reviews have questioned the Torch's ability to deal a knockout blow to the iPhone 4, King says that's the wrong way to evaluate the device. "The most important thing for BlackBerry to do on a day-to-day basis is to make sure that new BlackBerry devices meet the rigorous standards and provide the features that the company's millions of enterprise customers have come to know and love," he says.

And to keep those enterprise users happy while trying to match the iPhone precisely feature for feature, King says, would be all but impossible. "The inherent form factor of the device, with the physical keyboard that users love so much, makes it a difficult engineering play to try to match up classic BlackBerry features with the all-on-screen touch devices like the iPhone," King says.

Still, Enderle Group principal analyst Rob Enderle says the Torch is the closest RIM has come thus far to meeting both enterprise and consumer demands in a single device. "At the end of the day, the iPhone is better at what the iPhone does and the BlackBerry is better at what the BlackBerry does," he says. "But the new Torch comes closer to where the iPhone is than the iPhone 4 comes to where BlackBerry is."

In several ways, Enderle says, the Torch offers a significant range of new functionality for BlackBerry users. "The Torch has a better browser, a better multimedia experience, and a much better connection to social media than previous generations... and at the end of the day, the company that can capture both the enterprise buyer and the consumer is probably the one that is truly unbeatable," he says.

Enderle says RIM's primary weakness at this point really lies in PR, not in functionality. "They're missing Apple's sense of marketing," he says. "The critical gap Research In Motion has to close is the ability to generate demand... if you've got something that's differentiated and unique, you have to be able to convince people that the benefits of that uniqueness overcome the fact that it's different."

And RIM simply needs more apps. "Most of the developers are focused on the Android and Apple platforms," Enderle says. "In fact, if you look at the last set of numbers... it looks like it's about one third iPhone, one third iPad, and one third Android -- and then everybody else is noise. RIM's got to get above the noise level. In today's world, especially against Apple, you need apps -- and you need apps that the users want."

Still, Altimeter Group partner and analyst Michael Gartenberg says quality is far more important than quantity. "It's not about having the most applications," he says. "If that were true, Apple would have been out of the business in the PC space a long time ago. But it is about having the best applications, and making sure that the best applications, the most interesting applications and the most useful applications are on your platform."

In doing so, Gartenberg says it's also crucial for RIM to continue to meet its core constituents' needs. "The worst mistake that they can make is, in an attempt to embrace the consumer, take their eye off the businesses that are still driving a good deal of their sales... You don't want to give any of the upstarts who are getting better and better every day a shot at that business," he says.

But Chris Hazelton, research director at The 451 Group, says the Torch's greatest strength lies in its ability to meet the demands of both consumer and business users. "This is an all-in-one device, in that you can use it for work because it's secure, it has a keyboard, it has features like BlackBerry Messenger... but then you have a dedicated touchscreen that can be used for consumer applications or for reading content," Hazelton says.

For RIM, Hazelton says, the Torch is the right move at the right time. "This will help retain users, and it will continue their growth rate... People are going to say, 'RIM, you're not being aggressive enough,' but I would push back and say they have nearly 50 million users who they want to retain, and so this device is a step between what BlackBerry used to be... and what is next," he says.
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