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Will customers carry Torch?

New BlackBerry smartphone lacks innovation, analysts suggest

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 3/8/2010 (3661 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, holds the new BlackBerry Torch during a product introduction Tuesday in New York.

RICHARD DREW / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, holds the new BlackBerry Torch during a product introduction Tuesday in New York.

RESEARCH In Motion officially unveiled its latest smartphone Tuesday, a new touchscreen model with a slide-out keyboard designed to challenge Apple's iPhone, but analysts questioned whether the Torch is innovative enough to woo consumers.

The new BlackBerry will be released in the United States next week for $199 on a two-year contract, while Bell, Rogers and Telus all say they plan to offer it in Canada. Rogers was the most specific about its plans, saying a release will take place "in the coming weeks."

A spokeman for MTS Allstream Inc. said the new Blackberry Torch is not compatible with its current wireless network. However, he said the company is in the process of constructing a new HSPA network that should be operational later this year.

The phone is packed with consumer-friendly features, including built-in links to social networks like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, and has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard to appeal to users who have been frustrated by typing on touchscreen keypads.

The Torch is the first BlackBerry to operate off RIM's new operating system, software that modernizes how the phones connect to the web and handle multimedia. The latest web browser supports tabs to view multiple sites and is designed to automatically format text for easiest reading. A new multimedia feature allows users to wirelessly access their iTunes library over Wi-Fi and download songs to a BlackBerry.

Analysts say Tuesday's news is a significant step forward for the company and keeps alive hopes to compete in the consumer smartphone market.

But RIM wasn't able to go a step further than Apple and really "wow" with its announcement, said Mark Tauschek, research director for Info-Tech Research Group.

"The actual device I think looks pretty good, and from a functionality perspective I think BlackBerry OS 6 has nice improvements -- basically mixing the touchscreen capabilities of a BlackBerry Storm with a traditional BlackBerry will be compelling to some," Tauschek said.

But he questioned whether it's good enough to really stand out in a crowded market.

"I think time will tell but my inclination is it maybe is not. It's a tough row to hoe for RIM to keep up with the iPhone 4 and some of the pretty compelling Android devices we're seeing as well."

Ian Lee, MBA director at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business, is a self-professed BlackBerry user and said he too had mixed feelings about the announcement. He acknowledged RIM has made good progress in making the BlackBerry appeal more to consumers but said it's still at risk of being left behind.

"Today's product launch was absolutely crucial in trying to turn around the decline in the market share that's occurring right now," he said.

"I'm sure it's bigger and better and faster and more powerful but at most they caught up today to Apple's iPhone and I'm not sure they even caught up."

Lee had hoped the Torch would be as awe-inspiring as the original BlackBerry devices.

"It was cutting edge when it first came out and it grabbed everyone's attention, it was the 'it' technology. But they've ceded that title -- really, to be brutally blunt -- to Apple's iPhone and the BlackBerry is no longer seen to have that aura about it."

A study released Monday by the Nielsen Company suggested that while RIM still leads the way with market share in the United States -- with 35 per cent of smartphone subscribers, versus 28 per cent for Apple, 15 per cent for Microsoft Windows Mobile phones and 13 per cent for Android phones -- customer loyalty was a growing issue.

 

-- The Canadian Press

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