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RIM's BlackBerry Evolution Fails to Impress

BlackBerry kicked off the week with an update to its BlackBerry operating system, a new touchscreen Bold smartphone, enterprise support for Android and iOS, and video chat and Facebook apps for its PlayBook tablet.

The mobile device maker announced its slew of updates at its BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, but LR Mobile kept tabs on the event from the comfort of our Twitter Inc. stream.

Here are the highlights and what those in attendance had to say:

The phones
RIM made only incremental changes for its latest Bold smartphone, the HSPA+ Bold 9900 for T-Mobile US Inc. and the world-phone version, 9300, both available this summer. The most notable new features include a touchscreen and Near-Field Communications (NFC) chip. (See RIM Launches New BlackBerry Bolds, OS 7.)

Eric Zeman of our sister publication InformationWeek -- who also writes for the PhoneScoop blog -- echoed what many were thinking: that RIM needs a bigger showing for the rest of its one-phone conference. "Really hope RIM has more in store for BlackBerry World than one warmed over Bold. It's a great new phone, but still. Bigger leaps needed," he tweeted.

The operating system
The long-awaited refresh to the BlackBerry OS includes a faster user experience, voice-activated search, HTML5 video support and a Just-In-Time (JIT) JavaScript engine for the browser. It's a big leap up over BlackBerry 6, but older versions of the OS won't be getting the updates.

"Lack of legacy support in BB 7 (i.e. can't upgrade from BB6 devices) is a bit of a bummer," tweeted Ovum Ltd. analyst Jan Dawson (who sat this one out as well).

The enterprise
In addition to new consumer apps for the PlayBook, RIM paid ample attention to the enterprise, most notably announcing support for Android and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s iOS-based smartphones and tablets. Co-CEO Jim Basillie said this was necessary given the reality of multi-platform devices in the enterprise and the resulting need for a single point of accountability. (See RIM PlayBook Gets Facebook & Video Chat and RIM Supports Android & Apple in the Enterprise.)

As part of its OS 7, RIM also unveiled a new enterprise tech called Balance that lets pro-sumers compartmentalize their personal and work lives. PC World reporter Sascha Segan noted in Twitter shorthand that the service has little end-user appeal. "BB Balance is pretty cool; corp and work data appear the same, but IT admins control the corp data. Alas, attracts only IT admins."

The acquisition spree
RIM has been on a shopping spree of apps developers and content companies for a few years now, and it continued Monday by purchasing smartphone software security developer Ubitexx. This follows last week's acquisition of social calendar app Tungle.com. NPD Group Inc. analyst Ross Rubin said Balsillie used the BlackBerry World stage to highlight other past acquisitions, listing QNX Software Systems , TAT AB and Torch as major buys, and Gist, Dash, DataViz Inc. and Chalk as others.

RIM's acquisitions play into its strategy for expanding opportunities for the PlayBook as well. Rubin said, "Balsillie sees PlayBook opportunity expanding via 4G, apps (RIM and third party), content, and geographic expansion."

The future
The general consensus from BlackBerry World was that RIM's updates were incremental, and growing market share won't be easy for BlackBerry or Playbook. Basillie said he's comfortable in the company's position, but RIM also recently lowered its outlook for the first quarter of this year in acknowledgment of tough competition. (See RIM Predicts Weak Q1.)

Giving more cause for concern, Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart saw eerie similarities between Basillie's justification of the business and Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK)'s former CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo's classification of the Finnish handset maker's business.

"I'm not saying that RIM 2011 = Nokia 2010, but the rhetoric/rationalizations sound shockingly similar to me," Greengart concluded.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

Radvan 12/5/2012 | 5:06:09 PM
re: RIM's BlackBerry Evolution Fails to Impress

It news for BB, but in reality they are really playing catch up with iOs and Android. 

Once a year updates don't work - especially if you are lagging behind. 

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:06:09 PM
re: RIM's BlackBerry Evolution Fails to Impress

There were also a lot of positive reviews about the new Bold, OS and enterprise updates, but it seems like RIM missed an opportunity to really impress (like with QNX-based smartphones). It does have the rest of the conference to wow us, but I'm not counting on it.

Incremental updates like this might work okay, but only if RIM issues them continuously - not just once a year at BB World.

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