RIM gives BlackBerry a consumer flavour

Moving into more countries and squeezing in more consumer- oriented features are part of RIM's plan to keep market share as rivals proliferate

The word "Waterloo" might conjure up, in the minds of some, thoughts of Napoleon Bonaparte's last battle, the London station or the song by Abba. But Waterloo, Canada, is also home to RIM's headquarters — a company that makes one of the most addictive business gadgets around.

The rather unglamorous nature of the BlackBerry's home might surprise the many business executives who find the devices so hard to put down. But what Waterloo lacks in looks it makes up for in brainpower, housing around 20 RIM buildings with strong links to the city's university.

RIM recently shipped its 20 millionth BlackBerry smartphone and the devices are ranked number one in the global PDA space, with 18.1 percent market share in May 2007, according to figures from analyst house Gartner. Now the company is looking at how it can develop its hardware even further.

RIM has been giving its handsets more of a consumer flavour recently, adding a range of colours and a number of features targeted at that market. For example, the Wi-Fi-enabled and camera-clad BlackBerry Pearl 8120 recently arrived in the UK. This device builds on the momentum generated by RIM's initial Pearl model, which launched last year, a device that was slimmer and more consumer-driven than previous BlackBerry offerings.

But don't expect any size-zero BlackBerry designs in the near-future. As Carlo Chiarello, director of product management at RIM, explained: "There is a sweet spot when we are using a device and, if we make it too thin, it does not feel right, [so] we do not want to make the BlackBerry artificially thin. But we will continue offering other colours [and] there will be improvement on the battery side."

The devices themselves represent a big proportion of RIM's revenue — with the revenue breakdown for the last quarter coming out at roughly 78 percent for devices, 15 percent for the service, four percent for software and three percent from other revenue.

And while BlackBerry-based software has been seen as being concerned only with emails and internet connectivity, now RIM is harnessing a host of new applications.

Following on from its recent tie-in with Facebook to bring the social networking site to the BlackBerry, Andrew Bocking, director of handheld software at RIM, told silicon.com: "Social networking is an area we see a lot of growth potential in [and] multimedia will continue to grow as the BlackBerry becomes more of a personal device."

The software staff at RIM are also working on bringing more navigation and GPS-based tools to the gadgets following the August launch of the BlackBerry Curve 8310 model with built-in GPS. Bocking added: "GPS is one of those technologies we can see a lot of potential with over the next year."

RIM is also planning to move into a more diverse range of countries, having recently brought its BlackBerry devices to China after several years of struggling to get the gadgets into the country.

It has now set its sights on bringing the BlackBerry to more developing countries. Dennis Kavelman, chief operating officer of RIM, said Latin America will be one of the next big places in the coming 18 to 24 months for the company. But, he added, it's hard to pinpoint one area where the gadget will really take off.

RIM's plans are part of a changing smartphone landscape, as new challengers appear on the horizon, including a rumoured enterprise version of Apple's iPhone and Google's Android initiative.

But the BlackBerry developer insists it remains focused on the boardroom and is not losing any sleep over potential competitors. RIM argues that it actually likes the iPhone because it's increasing business by spreading awareness of smartphones within consumer markets.

As Jim Balsillie, co-chief executive of RIM, said: "We saw our [BlackBerry device] sales go up with AT&T after the iPhone came out in the US."

Business users are also consumers, so it's a natural step to offer more consumer-flavoured devices. The trick for RIM is to hold onto its enterprise roots and cherry pick the best of the features from the increasing number of consumer smartphones hitting the market in order to keep business users on side and entertained.


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