RIM's Next Move: Is Bold, Storm2 Enough?
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Research In Motion's Bold 9700 debuted this week and though some industry watchers tout it as the best BlackBerry to date, others are questioning if the new handheld and imminent Storm2 are enough to keep RIM in the running in the smartphone sector.
The Bold 9700 is coming within weeks of both AT&T and T-Mobile releases for $199 after rebates, a significant drop from the original model, the Bold 9000, which cost $299.
RIM's (NASDAQ: RIMM) 9700 release is widely seen as an effort to shore up the mobile maverick's top spot in the enterprise -- a move attracting some criticism as RIM faces increasing competition on the consumer side from Apple's ongoing success and Android-powered handsets.
Taken on its own terms, however, as a BlackBerry aimed at professionals, the Bold 9700 impresses and is a good fit for its carrier partners.
While conceding that the Bold 9700 won't lure consumers away from the iPhone or Android smartphones, Avi Greengart, analyst at Current Analysis, said the new Bold is "the best BlackBerry RIM has ever built."
"The Bold 9700 adds 1700 MHz HSDPA to a mix that already included 850/1900 (for AT&T's 3G network) and 2100 (for most international markets); that means that this is the first 3G BlackBerry for T-Mobile USA, and it allows RIM to sell a single SKU around the world," writes Greengart in a research note.
Beyond benefits to RIM and carriers, there's plenty to like about the 9700, which runs on the BlackBerry OS 5.0, as it swapped out the trackball from the first version for a trackpad and comes in with a much more compact design, bringing it in line with the Curve and Tour form factors.
In addition to the usual enterprise-friendly features offering push e-mail, Microsoft Exchange support and data security, T-Mobile users will be able to use the Bold 9700 to place calls over Wi-Fi. AT&T's version includes Wi-Fi but without call support.
Greengart sees RIM leveraging consumer loyalty with the Bold 9700 price point.
"This ($199 price) is a significant price drop relative to the original, but still a premium price compared to the Curve 8900 which offers many of the same features," he said. "As such, this is really more of an effort for RIM to maintain high margins among existing BlackBerry users; consumers upgrading from a feature phone to their first BlackBerry will more likely gravitate to the Curve line, which starts well below $100," said Greengart.
Like Greengart, however, other industry watchers agree that while the Bold 9700 will be successful with RIM fans, it fails to offer any compelling reason for consumers to purchase it over recent competitors in the space such as the iPhone 3GS, Palm Pre and Android newcomers including the Motorola Cliq and HTC Hero.