RIM unveiled an update to its smartphone operating system dubbed BlackBerry 6, along with its new BlackBerry Torch 9800 flagship smartphone.
Blackberry 6 boasts several anticipated updates to the OS, such as touch-screen interface improvements, a Webkit-based internet browser, advanced media capabilities and social network integration.
The BlackBerry Torch features a 3.2" capacitive touch screen, coupled with a slide-down QWERTY keyboard. It is exclusive to AT&T in the US and has been confirmed to launch on Vodafone in the UK, although UK exclusivity has yet to be confirmed.
After a lacklustre performance with its clickable touch screen 'Storm' line of devices, RIM is getting back to a form factor that caters to physical keyboard loyalists while introducing a more standard touch screen. This product should therefore prove popular among the high-end of the segments targeted by RIM.
Screen Digest does not believe RIM needs nor intends to position its devices as iPhone competitors. Indeed, there is empirical evidence that the consumer preference overlap for these two devices is limited at best.
A faster growing segment is the teenage consumer market, where lower cost devices and price plans compare favourably to the iPhone and enjoy consequent viral success in specific markets such as the UK. This phenomenon will allow RIM to maintain shipment and subscription growth at the expense of revenue per handset.
While this growth is definitely a welcome addition to its strong position enjoyed in the business market, RIM still faces challenges in growing beyond a messaging solution, and into a full-fledged smartphone offering. The BlackBerry App World application store is growing less rapidly than Apple's and Google's. Moreover, territories enjoying a strong BlackBerry presence see a correlated above-average iPod Touch usage, indicating the iOS ecosystem remains a preferred platform for mobile content consumption.
The latest BlackBerry 6 OS update plays on the platform's strength in messaging. Its aim is to catch up with, rather than out-innovate, iOS or Android. But, thanks to its success in specific business and consumer segments, RIM still benefits from a significant safety margin. Screen Digest believes RIM's biggest threat ultimately lies with lower cost Android handsets with physical keyboard form factors.
Screen Digest expects RIM to ship 50m handsets worldwide by 2015, compared with 90m for Android and 60m iPhones.