News that the Research In Motion BlackBerry Curve outsold iPhones in Q1 surprised many observers, but for those who follow the smartphone market closely, it makes a certain kind of sense. Push-button BlackBerry models like the Curve play well against the iPhone's most notable weakness: text entry. Among other things, this demonstrates why RIM would be wise to skip the consumer smartphone business and stick to what it does best -- business handsets. And, in my opinion, that requires keypads, not touchscreens.
It is easy to understand why CEO Jim Balsillie is telling investors a sequel to RIM's touchscreen BlackBerry Storm is in the offing. Consumer handsets are a huge market, but it is not one I can imagine RIM will ever control.
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My guess is that about the time RIM comes out with a Storm replacement that Verizon will start getting iPhones. Verizon customers who now purchase Storms because they do not want to change carriers will jump at the iPhone the moment Verizon has some to sell.
This will leave RIM, essentially, all dressed up with nowhere to go. Even if timing is off a bit, eventually Verizon gets iPhones and RIM loses.
A better play, I think, would be to make RIM's keyboard-based devices more attractive to iPhone customers in hopes of luring business customers to its arguably better handsets.
That requires lots more applications for BlackBerry as well as, yes, a competitive music and applications store. The handsets also need the same camera, GPS, and other features of the iPhone as well as excellent Windows desktop support.
The reason the iPhone has been a success is as much about it being part of a computing environment and ecosystem as it is the phone itself. There are things that make the iPhone so difficult to compete with.
RIM would do better, I think, to avoid the head-to-head consumer battle and develop its own ecosystem, built around Windows and a heavy reliance on business applications, to sell keyboard-based BlackBerry designs.
Until something dramatic happens with voice recognition, there will remain a gulf between serious business users, aka keyboard people, and SMS users, aka iPhone people.
As much as I love my iPhone, there are plenty of times that I have not responded to an e-mail in detail because of the difficulty I still have with the touchscreen. Even after two years of daily use.
If RIM could deliver a BlackBerry that does everything my iPhone does, includes a keyboard, and has tethering capabilities, I would have to take a very serious look at it. Especially, if it could be an additional line on my AT&T account, but that's another story.