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Is Seven the BlackBerry's Lucky Number?

Research in Motion (RIMM) is everyone’s favorite tech object of scorn. No surprise: The company that was closely associated with the birth of smartphones in the Americas has been taking it on the chin from upstarts such as the iPhone from Apple (AAPL) and Android-based devices from Google (GOOG). RIM has fumbled badly with its strategy and products. The company has been lumbering and getting a lot of flak for its complicated management structure. Even insiders have been fed up.

I was a long-time BlackBerry user until I lost my device in a taxi on my way to cover the HP Palm WebOS/Tablet launch. (Oh, the irony.) Here I am today: an iPhone (on Verizon) user. However, I will always maintain a sweet spot for BlackBerry devices. They are good for instant messaging and are really good for e-mail. They often have good radio performance and have solid battery life. A lot of people still use them.

And while I have stopped doing reviews—Kevin Tofel does a much better job—I find time for BlackBerry devices for old times’ sake. A few weeks ago, Research in Motion sent me three of their new devices that run on three different U.S. phone networks: Sprint (S) (BlackBerry Curve), AT&T (T) (BlackBerry Torch) and Verizon (BlackBerry Bold). All were powered by BlackBerry OS 7.0.

With three different models at once, I haven’t been able to give any of them ample time, but the one that has captivated me for now is the Verizon BlackBerry Bold. It is ultrathin, has a comfortable keyboard, and has access to a fast network.

This is the newest touch-enabled OS and has a lot of under-the-hood tweaks. It is incredibly fast (well, compared to the old BlackBerry I used), with a decent-enough browser, fantastic, fluid graphics, and it feels much more modern. It’s sort of like me buying slim-fit jeans: On the surface, I might look mod; in reality, I’m a guy on the wrong side of forty. As I said, the device does a good job of papering over the shortcomings.

Delightful to Touch

I absolutely love BlackBerry OS 7′s touch capabilities. You see, after continuously using the iPhone and iPad, I find devices that don’t have touch capabilities incredibly inhuman and pointless. They end up raising my blood pressure a few points. Other BlackBerry owners I have spoken with who upgraded from their old devices find themselves pleasantly surprised as well.

To make a short review shorter, I can say OS 7.0 is good enough—and it will buy Research in Motion a bit of time in the marketplace. Not a lot, but when you are perceived to be fighting for your life, every second counts. Smart guys at UBS (UBS) Research pretty much affirmed my unscientific perceptions in a note to their clients Friday morning, putting numbers on BlackBerry OS 7′s likely impact on the company’s bottom-line.

From a UBS Research note sent out via e-mail: “Our recent store checks in the U.S./Canada (see 8/19/11 note as well) point to a decent start [see chart] for RIMM’s new BB 7.0 phones, esp. the Bold, which, combined with the scope of the launch (global) and a lean channel, could lead to upside to our 11.8m and 13.1m phone unit [estimates] (sell in) for 2Q/3Q when RIMM reports on 9/15. On a mid-term basis, we will be watching the effect of competing product launches such as the iPhone 5 and several Android devices expected later this year … especially given increasing macro uncertainty. Ultimately, we will be looking to RIMM’s QNX transition, along with other signs of what RIMM can or will do to meaningfully alter the balance of power in the mobile-handset world.

“RIMM’s two main pillars of growth—international expansion and enterprise—are increasingly under attack and we continue to believe the status quo will likely be only good enough to just keep RIMM in the game, but will not meaningfully slow its competitors. Competing ecosystems continue to innovate at a very rapid pace, and we continue to foresee eroding market share for RIMM longer term.”

UBS’s long-term skepticism is justified. I don’t think Android and Apple are stoppable at this point and anyone else is essentially fighting for the third spot. This is where RIM has as much a chance as anyone else. A UBS survey found that nearly 62 percent of BlackBerry owners are likely to buy another BlackBerry—second only to Apple (with 95 percent likely to be repeat buyers of an Apple phone).

For BlackBerry, that could be something to build on.

Also from GigaOM:

RIM’s BlackBerry 7: A Case of Unfounded Optimism (subscription required)

Google’s Zagat Buy Could Give Search Critics More Ammo

How Android App Growth Will Mean Payoff for Devs

The Day Apple Won the Flash Fight

NBC Gets Smart; Adds Full Episodes to iPad App

Om Malik is founder and senior writer of GigaOM. Before launching his own publishing venture, he was a senior writer for Business 2.0 magazine covering telecom and broadband stories.

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