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BlackBerry fights back with launch of four new models

Research in Motion unveiled a new suite of BlackBerry smartphones in Paris Wednesday in a bid to slow the erosion of its global market share. The company hopes its new line-up will reverse a severe decline in sales.


Research in Motion’s global rollout of its newest line of BlackBerry smart-phones arrived in Paris where the company unveiled a quartet of new devices on Wednesday. All four phones are the latest effort on the part of the once dominant Waterloo, Ontario-based telecom manufacturer to reverse a steady decline in overall market shares, in what has been described as the largest release in BlackBerry’s history.

The four new phones are each targeting a different demographic. In contrast with Apple that focuses on the high end of the market with its popular, and comparatively expensive, iPhone, BlackBerry is gambling that it can produce devices that appeal to everyone from cost-conscious teenagers to corporate executives.

High-end users have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Bold 9900, its top of the line model that combines a touch-screen with BlackBerry’s iconic keyboard. The device has been re-designed inside and outside with sleeker hardware and the new BlackBerry 7 operating system.

With BlackBerry 7, RIM has opted for enhanced integration with Microsoft Office applications (Word, Excel, etc…), more applications that rely on voice activation and social networking, particularly across its popular BlackBerry Messenger network.

The French version of the Bold 9900 is priced €199 if bought with a contract.

Competing in a crowd

BlackBerry faces considerably more competition among mid-priced phones where Android-powered devices have been gobbling up market shares. Its new Torch models 9860 and 9810, both also running on BlackBerry 7, are seemingly aimed at new smartphone consumers who want to retain their access to the BlackBerry Messenger network’s 45 million users while enjoying many of the app-based features popular on the iPhone and Android devices. 

While the 9860 is an entirely touch-screen phone, the 9810 is a slider device that offers both a keyboard and touch-screen. Neither of these devices revealed any significant hardware enhancements over their predecessors. Instead, the key selling point for BlackBerry here appears to be that it makes its BB 7 OS available at a lower price.

One of the key challenges for all of BlackBerry’s mid-range product line is how it effectively differentiates itself in a market that is increasingly defined by the number and quality of mobile applications, or apps. With only 35,000 apps for sale in its BlackBerry App World marketplace, the company offers just a tenth of the number of applications available on the Apple App Store or the Android Marketplace.

The low end

While Apple dominates the top of the smartphone market and Android devices have become increasingly popular in the mid-range, BlackBerry’s low-priced curve models have been hugely successful among teens and other price-sensitive consumers. The BlackBerry’s Curve models are often available for just €1 with a contract and offer unlimited texting within the company’s messaging network.

As for its more expansive brethren, the Bold 9900, BlackBerry did both a hardware and software makeover for the considerably cheaper Curve 9360. Powered by an 800 megahertz processor running BlackBerry 7 OS, the Curve 9360 is a device that emphasizes texting and messaging above all else and is ideal for that consumer who prefers type over talk. 

BlackBerry’s BIG problem

BlackBerry has long been popular with corporate and government clients who value the device’s emphasis on text-based encrypted messaging. BlackBerry’s closed network architecture offers a degree of security that is unparalleled in the industry, making the device a popular choice among corporate technology managers.

Servicing large governmental, financial and other corporate clients has been a major part of BlackBerry’s success but as employees of these organizations push back on carrying around two smartphone devices, one personal the other professional, a growing number of IT managers are abandoning their once exclusive loyalty to BlackBerry.

The crux of the problem is that a company-provided phone often has so many restrictions on it that it is not practical for personal use. Conversely, personal smartphones, such as the iPhone, often lack the necessary security features that are essential to protect a company’s network from viruses or unauthorized penetration from the outside.

“Clearly we are aware of this trend,” said David Derrida, Director of Carrier Product Management at BlackBerry’s parent company Research in Motion, “and since last year we’ve been developing 'BlackBerry Balance' that effectively creates a wall between the user’s personal and professional worlds on their device.”

Derrida no doubt hopes that initiatives such as ‘Balance’ will help slow BlackBerry’s steady erosion and give a badly needed boost to its ailing stock price. With its shares now priced less than half of what they were last year, Research in Motion has a lot at stake with this latest product launch, or else it may be one of their last as an independent company.

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