By Mark Long / CIO Today. Updated October 28, 2009.
Verizon Wireless has begun shipping Research In Motion's new Blackberry Storm2 handset. Verizon is offering the new smartphone, which incorporates improved touchscreen technology, at a post-rebate price of $179.99 for customers signing up for a two-year service contract.
RIM's latest BlackBerry sports a QWERTY-style keypad, a 3.2-megapixel camera with camcorder capabilities, built-in Wi-Fi, 2GB of onboard media storage, and 256MB of flash memory. What's more, the Storm2 ships with a 16GB SD memory card.
However, by continuing to blur the distinction between smartphones and other computing devices, RIM runs the risk of attracting market competition from companies currently operating outside the mobile industry. "PC vendors are already eyeing up the booming smartphone market to offset a slump in computer sales," said Roberta Cozza, a principal research analyst at Gartner.
PC Vendor Challenges
For RIM, the arrival of its new touchscreen model came not a moment too soon. According to Gartner Research Director Carolina Milanesi, devices featuring touchscreens were a major driver for replacement sales throughout the first half of 2009, which means RIM has to play catch-up as competition intensifies in advance of this year's holiday shopping season.
RIM hopes to cash in on BlackBerry OS 5.0, which boosts the Storm2's performance through the addition of hundreds of hardware and software enhancements -- including SurePress display technology that makes clicking on the handset's capacitive display far less onerous. However, RIM's smartphone rivals already offer similar capabilities, and the underlying technology is even starting to show up on the latest laptops.
Gartner expects that all major PC vendors will have announced their aim to have a presence in the smartphone market by the end of this year. However, Cozza does not expect RIM and Apple to experience significant competition from PC makers right away.
PC vendors such as Dell will be challenged "to stand out from the crowd and be successful unless they produce truly differentiated and unique products," Cozza said. They also will have to adapt their smartphone offerings to "a consumer-focused value proposition" that is largely based on short life cycles, fashion design, hardware and software platform diversity.
"Understanding of mobile consumer behaviors, competitiveness and positioning of their mobile products and relationships with carriers are all barriers that cannot be overcome in the short term," Cozza said. "This will limit any PC vendor presence in the smartphone market to low single digits for some time."
Still, the potential rewards will be enormous for any PC vendor that successfully makes the transition. Though smartphones only currently account for 14 percent of overall mobile-device sales, Cozza said by 2012 they will make up around 37 percent of global handset sales -- equivalent to hundreds of millions of annual unit shipments.
"The smartphone market has never been more competitive, and even established handset vendors are being challenged to maintain or expand their positions," Cozza said.
RIM received a software boost this week with the release of a new premium edition of Documents To Go for BlackBerry smartphones such as the Storm2. Among other things, the new offering from Dataviz enables the viewing of native Adobe PDF files and attachments without requiring any desktop or server conversion.
The enhanced PDF capabilities will certainly be welcomed by smartphone users who wish to view business documents and even e-books on their mobile screens. Though apps are already available for reading e-books on mobile devices from RIM and Apple, mobile operators "are starting to subsidize e-book readers and mini-notebooks on contract," Milanesi said. The downside for RIM and its smartphone rivals is there will be fewer subsidies available to drive smartphones sales, she added.