Research In Motion's brand-new BlackBerry Torch 9800 has the blogosphere abuzz. Will Torch be the BlackBerry that returns RIM to glory and staves off competition from Apple's iPhone and a galaxy of Android-based devices?
Regardless of its sales strength, RIM can call the day a win, at least. It launched the Torch, played up a number of strong features, especially around RIM's new BlackBerry OS 6.0, and got smartphone observers excited about it again, which has to be satisfying despite less-than-stellar subscriber and shipment gains in recent quarters and ongoing Blackberry naysayers in the press.
Here are five big takeaways following RIM's BlackBerry Torch 9800 launch:
1. Flexibility Without Gimmicks: Many have made note of the Torch's physical flexibility -- that is, it includes both a touch screen and, a first for RIM, a slide-out phyical QWERTY keyboard. Providing both shows RIM has taken some of the lessons of its ill-conceived BlackBerry Storm to heart, and not forced BlackBerry aficionados to choose touch screen or keys.
"Touch-enabled devices have been growing in popularity since Apple launched the first iPhone in 2007," wrote Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, in a Tuesday blog post. "Yet, users who spend a lot of time sending text messages or emailing seem to have preferred devices with a physical QWERTY keyboard."
Milanesi notes that a touch screen worked "with somewhat mixed results" on BlackBerry Storm and Storm 2, but the Torch "bridges these two use cases to offer a more traditional solution to RIM's core users with the added bonus of a new OS that improves the touch experience."
2. The Buzz Worked: Apple is the unquestioned lord and master of milking pre-product release buzz and speculation, but Apple's rivals have finally taken note of what a little nudge-nudge, wink-wink marketing can accomplish and what saying not too much or too little about product releases can do for excitement. The BlackBerry Torch 9800 was one of RIM's most buzzed-about product launches in its history; rest assured, RIM will take note of what worked and what didn't as it prepares future smartphone (and, cough, tablet) releases down the line.
3. Six Point Oh, Yeah: The growth and strength of Google Android has been a case study in the meteoric rise of a mobile OS -- developers and consumers alike seem to love it, and manufacturers have adopted it in droves. RIM made a wise calculation playing up the benefits of its long-awaited BlackBerry 6.0 release months before it provided devices that could run 6.0. With the Torch, it capitalized on strong word-of-mouth for 6.0 while serving up a new client device as well.
4. AT&T Is Hungry: AT&T sees the writing on the wall: it's going to lose iPhone exclusivity in the U.S. soon. Therefore, the carrier has been making sure to get buddy-buddy with as many other platforms and manufacturers as possible, including RIM. AT&T is the exclusive carrier for Torch at launch, and while it was a little trigger-happy Tuesday -- AT&T put up a product page for the Torch at least a full half-hour before its official announcement -- we're guessing that's done nothing to hurt RIM and AT&T's renewed closeness. RIM has a carrier partner hungry for another hit to make up for inevitable iPhone losses, and can be assured AT&T will market Torch with gusto.
5. Rising Tide: The research reports by Canalys and Nielsen making the rounds have painted a less-than-stellar picture for RIM, with confirmations aplenty that Apple and Android have been making gains at RIM's expense. But look closer and there's plenty in those statistics to give RIM reassurance. One, it isn't shrinking: shipments of RIM BlackBerry phones increased by 41 percent in the second quarter compared to a year ago. And two, smartphone shipments overall have grown 64 percent year-over year, meaning that even if Android and Apple take bigger bites, there'll be more pie for everybody.