Smartphones

RIM's new touchscreen BlackBerry and tablet are both risky

A new report says BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion is prepping two new devices to keep BlackBerry from being engulfed by the momentum of Android and iPhone.

While BlackBerry remains the U.S. leader in smartphone market share, it is under intense pressure from Apple iPhone and Google Android. On Monday night The Wall Street Journal reported that BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion is prepping two new devices to keep BlackBerry from being engulfed by the momentum of Android and iPhone.

The Journal wrote:

"RIM is testing a touch-screen smartphone with a slide-out keyboard, according to people familiar with the device. The phone runs on a new version of the BlackBerry operating system and works much like an iPhone... RIM is also experimenting with a tablet device to serve as a larger-screen companion to its BlackBerry phone, say people familiar with RIM's plans. That device, which is in an early stage of development, will connect to cellular networks via a BlackBerry phone, these people say. It could come out as soon as the end of the year."

The most interesting thing here is that this report appears to confirm rumors about the BlackBerry 9800 slider and the Palm Folio-like BlackBerry tablet that were leaked by sites like Boy Genius Report and Engadget in recent months. The photos below claiming to be the BlackBerry 9800 were leaked by a Chinese site and then picked up by various U.S. message boards and blogs.

Of course, BGR and Engadget are in the business of publishing rumors and so they have a lower threshold of veracity. The Journal will typically only publish a report like this if it has multiple reputable sources to confirm it, so that make this a little more likely. Nevertheless, RIM has refused to verify the report so it's likely that the future is still in motion here, especially in relation to the tablet.

Sanity check

Here are my thoughts about this report:

  1. RIM announced BlackBerry OS 6.0 in April at WES 2010 with a video that showed off a new touchscreen interface. The company also said that OS 6.0 would arrive in the third quarter. Interestingly enough, the size of the screen displayed in that video looks like it fits with the screen size of the supposed BlackBerry 9800 photos above. In other words, all signs point to the arrival of the BlackBerry 9800 slider or a similar device running OS 6.0 before the end of the summer.
  2. If RIM were to come to market at the end of 2010 with a touchscreen tablet that was not a stand-alone computing device but rather a large screen BlackBerry companion, it would be an extremely risky move. Palm had developed a similar product in the Palm Folio but torpedoed it before it ever got released. Others such as Redfly have tried and failed to make the concept work. RIM would be much better off just using BlackBerry OS 6.0 to build a stand-alone tablet tailored for its primary business professional demographic.
  3. The idea of building a touchscreen BlackBerry with a full QWERTY slider is another risky move that would put BlackBerry a step behind iPhone and Android because RIM would be trying to serve two masters. By making a keyboard that slides from the bottom (rather than the side, like the Motorola Droid), the rumored BlackBerry 9800 would naturally have to limit the size of its screen. While the tepid response to the BlackBerry Storm may have led RIM down this path, a combo device isn't the answer. The company should just build a better touchscreen smartphone, and still develop a line of great QWERTY smartphones for those enterprise users who prefer a hardware keyboard.

Also read

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

15 comments
olatg
olatg

I definitely agree. A combo is not a solution...An improvement on the storm to surpass iphone 4 features and improved usability of the storm would do.

neoprime
neoprime

I would like to see a blackberry tablet, just as long as RIM take their time to develop it and not try to rush it to market.

Hazydave
Hazydave

.. is a very good one. And it's a real opportunity to push something other than Windows more into the computing mainstream. Some of the smart phone OSs are equal to this task, as Apple's demonstrating with their revised iPhoneOS on the iPad. But they've also fairly well crippled the iPad in many ways.. no more expansion options than an iPod, etc. I really do wonder if the Blackberry OS is up to the challenge. Smart phones in general, and Blackberries in particular, are not very useful content creation devices. Tablets won't match PCs in this respect, but it's foolish to assume they're going to be limited to content viewing only. And those devices that make that assumption are going to be the losers in this new "ARMs race"...

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

with a slim pull out handset (from the tablet and charged by it) for calls. A winner it would be.

davidjoots
davidjoots

i've noticed that with things like bbm increasing in popularity amongst young people, blackberrys are becoming increasingly popular (at the expense of the iphones. The touch screen is useful for the novelty factor (in comparisons with the iphone and droids), but hardcore text communicators from handheld devices always prefer a solid qwerty. The ideal device would be something the size of the 9700/tour with a screen as is (but touch screen). Sliders over time get boring and annoying (hence why non have ever been top sellers).

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

but, most of the people I talk to bought it because of the slider and end up never (or rarely) using the slider. I was a touchscreen hold-out for a long time because I preferred a hardware QWERTY. Now, after a year on touchscreen, I have no doubt that I'm much faster on a touchscreen keyboard than a hardware keyboard.

travis.duffy
travis.duffy

I absolutely hate typing on touch screens. I really don't understand the hype they generate. They never pick up what key i really want to type, the virtual keys are way too small. If I was forced to use a touch screen smart phone, it would collect dust.

Hazydave
Hazydave

The iPhone 4 hasn't even gone on sale yet. AT&T's server crashed due to 600,000 pre-orders a day or so ago. Now, clearly, these are hard-core iPhonies making the pre-orders... same kind of people who will line up on Day 1 of actual retail sales. But it's far, far too early to judge the iPhone4's success or failure. For a large number of users, there's no choice... Blackberries are dictated by one's company, and you're only a candidate for an iPhone if you require a second phone for personal use. But the big problem for RIM -- there has been NOTHING from them that could possible tempt away someone in thrall of the iPhone (or some of the similar Android devices). RIM to date has very little to offer in the way of a consumer SmartPhone. Sure... like Microsoft and even Palm to a degree, they didn't believe in the concept, period... until Apple proved them all wrong (the original Android team, already far along when the iPhone shipped, also believed in the consumer Smartphone... but few of the established vendors did). Apple/AT&T may be hedging on tethering, but wireless tethering is built-in on Android 2.2. And Flash support, and all sorts of other goodies. These are already out, in some form, on some of the Android devices anyway, but it's all being made official in 2.2. That's actually a very good sign... unlike Apple in particular, Google is responding directly and quickly to what the community finds important.

travis.duffy
travis.duffy

and I cannot stand it. Landscape mode takes both hands. I want a one handed device. That is one of the MANY advantages of Blackberry devices over the others.

tbostwick
tbostwick

Same goes for Droid and iPhone- there is simply no way these are "great" typing phones. Given the tactile/keyboard feel of any QWERTY board on a smartphone is easily the better of all the keying options on these devices. RIM is in an interesting phase right now, and does produce phones that are reliable, particularly in enterprise situations, where keyboarding more often and "reliably" are important. Someone once said, that all computing will be done on these devices - and I would disagree - there is no way I could sit at a device like this for 8+ hours/day, programming, keying, etc... As to RIM's decision, it has time on it's hands as the iPhone 4 is receiving luke-warm if negative responses - most folks AREN'T buying them as Apple anticipated, especially after the release of the iPad only a month or so ago. Again, I'll take my Blackberry in tether mode, on N & G networks + firewall and smartphone security over an iPhone or Drois (cloudy) anyday, if for no other reason but more peace of mind.

Hazydave
Hazydave

The main problem with a virtual keyboard is the fact it takes up so much screen real-estate. I use the virtual keyboard, or voice, for very simple stuff on my Droid. But for any real typing (like this posting), the physical keyboard is dramatically superior. Sure, there's some practice involved... but that was also true of my old Treo's keyboard, it's true of any virtual keyboard, and in fact, it was true when I started using computers back in the 70s.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Have you tried landscape mode in a virtual keyboard? That's the best bet for more lengthy typing.

johnmckay
johnmckay

I do love my Blackberry Outlook functionality but the screen real estate is way too small. In addition there are too many models... nobody wants to choose. You buy an iphone, you get an iphone. I've gone Android HTC Hero for private use and our BBs are so locked down it's difficult to know how this will go. I wish them well but personally feel they might have missed the boat. How many of us have championed a bigger screen, better internet use (needs a bigger screen) and less model clutter? I've said it for years. my 9700 is good for mail, great for notes etc... but internet use is rubbish!

Editor's Picks