RIM's BlackBerry Torch Fails To Spark Slumping Stock

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Research In Motion launched the BlackBerry Torch 9800 this week in hopes of a big boost for BlackBerry, but the fire RIM hoped to light with Torch has been barely a spark. RIM shares were down 3.85 percent at the close of the Nasdaq trading on Wednesday, and shares of RIM on the Toronto Stock Exchange were also down, having declined about 7 percent this week.

Granted, it's been a tough few days for RIM in general. Beyond the Torch launch -- and the arrival of BlackBerry's 6.0 OS -- RIM has spent the week in the middle of two international headaches, first its ongoing contretemps with the United Arab Emirates, India and other countries threatening to shut down BlackBerry service, and second, the European Commission's confirmation that it will provide Apple iPhones and HTC smartphones, not BlackBerrys, to its 2,500-person staff.

The BlackBerry Torch launch itself was a success, with RIM harnessing buzz that had been building up for weeks and managing to distract attention -- at least for a day -- from iPhone gains and Android dominance with the promise of a slick device. And the BlackBerry Torch is a leap forward for RIM in the sense of features, form factor and OS.

But it's an Android and Apple world that RIM is starting to live in. Various research reports from Canalys, Nielsen and the NPD Group have all put the writing on the wall for RIM: rival smartphones, especially the many running Google's Android, are eating into its market share and starting to pose serious threats. According to the NPD Group, Android devices accounted for 33 percent of second-quarter smartphone sales in the U.S., with BlackBerry sales at 28 percent and iPhone sales at 22 percent.

It'll be a few weeks, at least, following the Aug. 12 on-sale date of the Torch, before a sales picture emerges. Thus far, the consensus among the Torch's first wave of reviewers is that the BlackBerry Torch will appeal to and shore up RIM's core BlackBerry customer base -- the business user -- but RIM hasn't exactly done much to entice Apple or Android lovers to the platform.

Influential Wall Street Journal columnist Walt Mossberg was appreciative of the device but noted RIM's comparative lack of applications as "one big downside" and reminded readers that RIM hasn't advanced past what consumers can get with iPhones and Android devices, and that in some respects, including screen size and resolution and thickness and weight, it lags behind rivals.

Calling the Torch a make-or-break for RIM seems too severe. As Canalys noted, shipments of RIM smartphones grew in the second quarter, and an ever-larger smartphone market means opportunity for all the major stakeholders. But if RIM was hoping to light a fire behind Torch and create that must-have-it buzz other smartphone rivals have managed for their recent releases, it appears to have nothing but kindling.

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