The forgotten feature BlackBerry needs: How dual SIM could help RIM

BlackBerry is not the coolest brand in consumers' eyes, and while it's starting to lose ground in the enterprise to Android and iOS devices, there's still a strong starting point to reassert dominance, if it can make the right moves. Could a dual-SIM phone help?
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

Research In Motion is not having a good year — in fact, it's not been having a good year for a few years now — but it could still be missing an easy win, a simple feature that could help differentiate its BlackBerry handsets in the crowded mobile market.

I don't believe that RIM's problems are as bad as some make out. It still has a strong presence in the enterprise and a valuable patent portfolio to boot; but it's undeniable that the company needs to do something significant, and do it soon, if it wants to keep any relevance in the mobile marketplace.

For a good while, the company has seemed a little split in its focus: enterprise is its heritage, but BYOD and consumer markets are where the cool kids play — the Apples and Samsungs that shareholders love, and device makers seek to emulate.

The BlackBerry 10 OS home screen
The BlackBerry 10 OS home screen. Photo Credit: Ben Woods/ZDNet

Despite reassurances that enterprise will always be a priority for the company, RIM has continued to persevere in making more consumer-focused devices, most of which could be deemed a flop.

Remember the Storm and Storm 2? No? Nor would most people — they were announced, released and then died quietly in a corner, annoying plenty of people along the way with an ill-conceived 'clickable' screen design. That was RIM's best effort at getting into the touchscreen consumer market and it was far from a successful one.

Missing a trick

However, I think RIM is missing a trick to carve out a niche for itself that would perfectly fulfil its BYOD aspirations as well as reassuring its enterprise customers that it has a game plan for the business market.

It's actually a really simple suggestion: just make a few high-spec dual-SIM handset models and sell them in markets that have almost no devices with such functionality, like Europe.

The bonus of a dual SIM is obviously that you can have your work and personal numbers accessible at all times without needing to carry around two phones or keep swapping SIM cards. (Obviously there are a lot of unified comms products, or even more basic services built into current-generation phones that could simply forward a call from one number to another, but it's not a very elegant solution if you want both numbers to be accessible at certain times, and it's not really the point.)

In the UK, very few dual SIM phones are available, and the ones that are tend to be feature phones (at best) or so-called 'dumb' phones, neither of which fulfils high-end consumer desire or enterprise demand.

It's not that the devices don't exist (there are plenty in the Far East) but even so, they still tend to be low-end devices, aimed at... well, it's not really clear.

An untapped market?

Currently, there are almost no actual smartphones that use dual SIM. It's an unchallenged sector of the market right now, but it might not stay that way forever. HTC seems to have noticed it; its dual-SIM Desire V will be making its way to mainland Europe, though it's not coming to the UK.

But before other mobile makers wake up to the untapped market in front of them, it's ripe for RIM's taking. A dual-SIM BlackBerry would be perfect for the BYOD crowd — users might want the convenience of using their own device, but that might not be the same thing as using their own phone number. RIM already knows the virtue of keeping a work-life balance, and dual SIM fits this ethos perfectly.

A RIM spokeswoman confirmed to me on Thursday that it doesn't currently make any dual-SIM phones, but didn't give a reason as to why.

I'm not suggesting that adding dual-SIM slots to its phones will be RIM's silver bullet — delivering BlackBerry 10 before the end of 2012 would have helped more — but dual SIM could give business users a reason not to move to iOS and Android, while still acting as the bridge between the consumer and enterprise markets that RIM needs to get its ultimately still quite business-like phones in the hands of more consumers.

If nothing else, it would make a BlackBerry smartphone running the BlackBerry 10 OS the only obvious choice for a business user who wants a dual-SIM handset. Moreover, a virtually uncontested market shouldn't be sniffed at.

After all, the company is essentially now known as pretty much the only place to go if you want a smartphone with a keyboard (at least in Europe), so why not add another hardware trademark to its line-up?

If I was in charge of RIM right now, I'd want all the easy wins I could get.

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