BlackBerry gets slimmer

Pearl is the first BlackBerry with a camera and removable storage
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

Research in Motion (RIM) has thrown out its thumbwheel and added a camera and a memory slot, in a bid to make its new 8100 Pearl smartphone small and chic enough to appeal to consumers, yet still a BlackBerry.

"Our aim is to take the BlackBerry out of the boardroom," said chief operating officer Larry Conlee, speaking of the consciously slick look of the Pearl at its European launch. "We do have industrial designers working at RIM — though you may have thought we didn't."

RIM has focused on size as a way to get consumers and small businesses to take on the device. It is 14mm thick, and weighs 89g, making it more like a feature-phone than BlackBerry-like email devices such as the Palm Treo, said Conlee.

You can see a first look at the 8100 Pearl over on ZDNet UK's Reviews channel.

"Size and [sales] volumes correlate," commented analyst Nick Spencer from Canalys, pointing out that consumer-oriented voice devices are small, and sell 75 million units a quarter in Europe, while larger email devices like traditional BlackBerrys sell around 700,000 a quarter. The Nokia N-series, which has a volume of 126 cubic centimetres (cc) outsells the 202cc Nokia Communicator, he pointed out, adding that the Pearl is only 128cc.

"Users avoid bulky devices, unless their company's IT department is powerful enough to dictate what they use," said Spencer, pointing out that far more people work in small companies, where they have more freedom of choice in their phone, and Blackberry devices would not catch on in the small outfits unless they become more attractive.

RIM sees a big opportunity in messaging for consumers, which the Yankee Group predicts will grow to 600 million users in 2010, while smartphones will go from 4 percent to 27 percent of the total phone market. "Over 60 percent of users want to spend their money on email," said Charmaine Eggberry, European vice president for RIM.

"There is currently a total addressable market of 43.1 million users in the US, and 41.2 million in Europe," said Eggberry. "That market is 95 percent untapped, so the opportunity is massive." She expects RIM will sell roughly as many in each market.

RIM included a camera and media player because users expect to have them in any smartphone, said Conlee. The thumbwheel, present in all previous BlackBerrys, had to go to meet the requirement of thinness. "We've had a lot of kudos for the thumbwheel, but it makes the device thicker," said Conlee. Instead, the Pearl has a trackball.

The device will be available from "most" European carriers in October, said Eggberry, and will ship with a 128MB SD card.

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