Memo to RIM: BlackBerry Name Confusion Bad News for Buyers

New BlackBerry smartphones certainly won't be in short supply this upcoming holiday season; BlackBerry-maker RIM has unveiled two new devices in the last week alone. But the company's not doing customers any favors by assigning confusing product names and model-numbers to its wide array of devices.

The majority of BlackBerry smartphones shipped in the past few years carried one of Research In Motion's (RIM) crafty device "brand names" like Pearl, Curve, Bold or Storm. That's because the company wisely realized somewhere along the line that its product portfolio was rapidly outgrowing its past model-number-based smartphone-naming conventions.

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Will Verizon's BlackBerry Storm 9550 be the "Storm2" or "Storm 2"??

When you only sell a few different handhelds, it's acceptable--though not necessarily wise--to call one smartphone the BlackBerry 123 and another the BlackBerry 456, for example, because there simply aren't enough gadgets to cause much confusion. Especially when most of your end-customers are enterprises or organizations that buy in bulk through wireless carriers.

The problem comes in when you drastically jack up your portfolio and expand the target audience to include, say, millions of consumers--which is exactly what RIM has done since the fall of 2006, when it unveiled the BlackBerry Pearl 8100, the first consumer-oriented BlackBerry.

RIM's latest smartphones sport both brand names and somewhat-consistent model numbers, which is certainly an improvement over the previous model-number-only naming convention.

Unfortunately, it's not good enough.

Keeping track of RIM's various smartphone-wares today is a burdensome task. That's because multiple Pearls, Curves, Bolds and Storm devices exist, many with different features and meant for use on different cellular networks. What's worse, some of the different models seem to have been named with no obvious rhyme or reason.

Take, for example, the recently announced BlackBerry Storm2 9520, which was made official last week by RIM and U.K. carrier Vodafone. As suggested by its name, the Storm2 is the successor to RIM's popular, touch-screen Storm 95xx device. The original Storm came in two "flavors"--one for with a CDMA radio for use mostly in North America (Storm 9530) and one for overseas markets (Storm 9500).

Verizon Wireless is expected to announce its new Storm 2, the 9550, any day now...but recent developments suggest that Verizon might launch the device as the Storm 2, with a space. (If this is the case, Verizon clearly didn't learn anything from Apple's recent iPhone "3G S/3GS" naming debacle...)

RIM's new BlackBerry Bold, the Bold 9700, is available in two versions for use on different 3G networks, just like the Storm2 9520 and Storm 2 (?) 9550...but both versions have exactly the same name and number: BlackBerry Bold 9700.

Then take the company's Curve lineup, of which there are now three "families"--83xx, 85xx and 89xx. Each and every device in the Curve family--and there are LOTS of them--is simply called a Curve. And each has a unique model number; say 8310, 8520 and 8900. But no Curve2 or Curve 3...even though it really would'e been valuable for RIM to differentiate those particular devices, since they're all unique.

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Confused yet?? Yeah...me too. And I won't even dive into the whole Pearl 81xx vs. Pearl Flip 82xx deal--trust me, it's just as mind-boggling as the above-mentioned examples.

The naming problems don't stop at RIM smartphones. RIM strangely gave its latest smartphone accessory, the BlackBerry HS-500 Wireless Headset, the a very similar name to an older, some might say obsolete, Motorola Bluetooth headset.

It's worth noting that part of the confusion here seems to be on the carrier-side, where each individual carrier wants to differentiate its specific BlackBerry smartphones from those offered by other carriers. RIM typically helps by making its carrier-customers' devices in slightly different colors or with tweaked features--and unique model numbers, to boot. Carriers then paste on logos and other branding to further set their products apart from rivals'.

Because RIM's making slightly different devices for customers, it does need to differentiate those products somehow. I just think that differentiation should be on the business-side of things and have less to do with consumers, most of whom probably don't know, or even care, that RIM makes more Curve devices than you can count on both hands.

It would really make sense from both a business perspective and a user-experience-standpoint for RIM to decide on some clear, simple naming conventions for its smartphones and then stick to those guidelines/rules when naming every device it ships.

So, for example, all future BlackBerry Curves could be labeled "Curve2" or "Curve3" depending on generation, with very similar model numbers for all devices in the same generation: Curve1 (83xx), Curve2 (89xx) and Curve3 (85xx). (The Curve 8900 was released before the 8520.)

RIM has spent years confusing customers with seemingly incongruous naming conventions, and it's going to have to dig itself out of that hole. But it's also never too late to start fixing past mistakes.

RIM's taking the world by storm--pun proudly intended--but it could save itself a world of trouble down the line by addressing its BlackBerry naming-convention challenges sooner than later.

AS

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