by Al Sacco

Memo to BlackBerry-Maker RIM: How to Steal Back the Apple iPhone Spotlight

Mar 26, 20084 mins
Data Center

By all accounts, the battle in the smartphone space between BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM), the king of the corporate hill, and Apple, the maker of the super-chic, consumer-oriented iPhone, has never been more fierce.

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BlackBerry or iPhone: Which Horse Will You Back?

Whether or not Apple can legitimately give RIM a run for its Canadian dollars, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Apple deserves a big ol’ pat on the back for making the iPhone seem like the greatest thing to happen to mobile users—consumers and businesspeople alike–since the notebook computer itself.

But I think it’s time for RIM to start throwing its weight around…before it’s too late.

If You’ve Got It,

Flaunt It

RIM sold more than 4 million smartphones in the fourth quarter of 2007, making it the number two vendor in the world behind Nokia, compared to Apple’s 2.3 million and its number three slot, according to Canalys. RIM owns the enterprise smartphone market in the United States, with nearly three-quarters of all business users, while Apple has a mere five percent of that pie, ChangeWave found; and only in the last year and a half has RIM started targeting the vast consumer market with devices like the BlackBerry Pearl and Curve. Those are impressive numbers, RIM! Don’t be shy.

Apple constantly hypes upcoming features and new support for applications and services—sometimes through “unofficial” channels–and that’s partly why everybody’s always talking about the iPhone. The company even spun that fact that it blocked third-party software developers from iPhone applications for eight months into good news, by staging a huge software development kit (SDK) release event. And Apple announced way back in October that the SDK would be released within the coming months, to whet anxious iPhone followers’ appetites, long before they could expect to see any apps from outside developers.

But RIM’s top brass doesn’t really seem to really understand the “cool factor,” or the value of word-of-mouth publicity. Earlier this month, RIM co-CEO and President Mike Lazaridis told that he’s not concerned with the iPhone’s popularity among enterprise smartphone users and said it’s important to “put this thing in perspective.” Lazaridis said his company’s experience in the wireless space and its focus on function over form will help RIM maintain its staying power, while Apple’s design-centric approach to the iPhone will result in a sacrifice in business-specific functionality.

Research In Motion co-CEO and President Mike Lazaridis
RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis

It wouldn’t make sense for Lazaridis to say he’s genuinely concerned with the iPhone’s success, or with Apple’s recent announcement of Microsoft Exchange support, but come on. If you’re going to dismiss the iPhone, give us a something to look forward to from RIM.

Milk That Next-Gen BlackBerry

for All It’s Worth

RIM’s due to release a new series of devices any day now, and the company could really benefit from a little iPhone-like hype around those announcements.

There’ve been rumors bouncing around the Web for months about the next BlackBerry, whether or not it will be part of the 9000 series lineup, and whether it will have a touch screen, a slider keyboard

or both. Just last week, Lazaridis released a bit more information by telling that he’s currently using an as-of-yet-unreleased—or even announced—BlackBerry that runs on 3.5G, High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSPDA) wireless networks. His remark was significant because it suggests that a next-generation BlackBerry is close-enough to release that it’s being used “in the wild” by one of RIM’s top execs.

As I said earlier, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due, and Lazaridis’s decision to mention the 3.5G BlackBerry was a step in the right direction. It certainly caught my attention and got me speculating—and writing–that the device could be released, or at least unveiled, at or before RIM’s upcoming Wireless Enterprise Symposium (WES) in May. (RIM also recently released the first Pearl with Wi-Fi.)

So keep it up, RIM. Drop us some more information on that new “very fast” BlackBerry. Is it part of the 9000 series? Does it have a touch screen, or will any of its siblings? When can we expect it? I’m dying to know, and so are all the other smartphone users out there who just can’t seem to escape iPhone coverage — but haven’t heard more than a peep from you in months.