BlackBerry 6, Windows Phone 7: Will You Stand In Line? - InformationWeek
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Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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BlackBerry 6, Windows Phone 7: Will You Stand In Line?

Are Research In Motion and Microsoft chasing the glory of consumer acceptance and compromising their relative success in the enterprise? That's the risk of following Apple and Google, rather than leading with strength and innovation.

Here are things people stand in line for: A new Harry Potter book, a Van Gogh museum exhibit, a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Sprinkles cupcakes, U2 concert tickets (and the bathroom line at intermission), Apple's iPad, Apple's iPhone 4 (and possibly to return Apple's iPhone 4). Each of those is brilliantly executed or well marketed or simply iconic. Following a Summer of Droid Rage (see Droid X and Droid Incredible), RIM and Microsoft are desperately trying to manipulate the upcoming holiday season's attention and while both will succeed in their own ways, neither need worry about the likes of Jason Bateman jumping lines. What they should worry about is whether they are falling prey to the seduction of consumer glamour at the expense of their core enterprise customer base.

BlackBerry: Follower Or Leader

BlackBerry 6, Bold 9800, BlackBerry Tablet
People once stood in line (short ones) for the BlackBerry Storm; if Research in Motion's massive consumer marketing campaign is effective, they will again for whatever is coming this holiday season. You can hardly traverse San Francisco without being bombarded with BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) ads; they are slathered on building facades and the BBM "star" is ubiquitous on BART; it's even popping up in New York City, where it's a little more difficult to stand out. Suddenly RIM is competing with Apple for city-wide eyeballs.BBM in the San Francisco Subway

RIM showed BlackBerry 6, its forthcoming operating system, at its WES conference earlier this year, and has begun revealing glimpses of it on YouTube (below) and in its own blog. Various Photos and video demos of what some are calling the Bold 9800 are also starting to leak, alongside rumors of a BlackBerry tablet.

Successful change comes both in increments and major leaps. RIM has continued to improve the BlackBerry keyboard, modified the device track wheel (now a slick track pad), streamlined its App World, made BBM a fabulous instant messaging app that includes voice notes, enhanced its Twitter client and made dozens of other user-facing changes. While App World isn't nearly as populated as iTunes, it's no slouch. BIS, BES Express and BlackBerry Protect proliferate a modicum of enterprise-class e-mail sync and security control to small businesses and consumers.

But as RIM sees the iPhone and Android phones chasing its hegemony, it must feel the pressure to improve its sex appeal. On the product front, that means a better touch screen experience, more multimedia options, better social media integration, and a Webkit browser. In other words, a smartphone experience that is as much of a beast for consuming content as it is for creating it.

All of the demos and blogs and videos would suggest that RIM will have accomplished this. But these new BlackBerry experiences appear to merely put its phones within parity's spitting distance of the iPhone and Android (final judgement reserved for real-world, hands-on use). That might be enough for BlackBerry loyalists and addicts, but it's hardly enough to pull the dissolute mobs out of the Harry Potter movie line. While that's probably acceptable -- RIM has had little trouble maintaining its smartphone lead without these features and mob-like lines -- the enormous uptick in visibility and spending is an omen of the competitive escalation. From here on, the wars may be fought in leaks to the Wall Street Journal and on the billboards of major cities.

So be it. Not our problem. But there are two other problems BlackBerry fans should worry about. First, there's the question of whether these blingy new features (except Webkit support) will compromise all of the features that simply work. There are so many subtleties in a BlackBerry that look and feel routine, but that routine is what makes them so powerful. It simply is less work to consume, interact with and produce e-mail, text, instant messaging and anything else that requires user input. Users do want the bling; phones have become status symbols, so bring it on. Just don't kill what makes a BlackBerry special.

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