Sunday, June 8, 2008

RIM's Competitors

Because of the online media coverage and intense interest the 3G iPhone has been getting and will be getting (millions of dollars of free advertisement for Apple), it is almost impossible to know that out there are other new phones coming out into the market.

And it was natural for the websites that routinely cover mobile devices to make comparisons between the iPhone and Blackberry. However, RIM's biggest competitor will not come from Apple but from Palm, Windows Mobile, and Nokia.

For Blackberry, any kind of comparison will have to take place on its home court: e-mail. No one, not even Apple, is likely to duplicate the ease and success of the Blackberries to help its users stay in touch. Whether it is a technically true assertion or a perceived one is not the point here. The Blackberry is king and anyone know who wants to play will have to do better e-mailing.

A lot of it could be the form factor and additional features that its competitors will have to develop to make sure that they can out Blackberry the Blackberry. E-mail is one thing but in an increasingly mobile society and an even more mobile workforce, the smartphones will have to allow the mobile warriors to do lot more without hindering productivity or increase complexity.

Apple will do what Apple wants to do. Keeping an eye on them makes good business sense. But trying to out-Apple Apple just doesn't make sense and will ultimately prove futile. If anything, the focus will have to be on Blackberry's position as the market leader.

Nokia's new E71 is a good start. It is a beautiful phone that has everything an user can ask for today. It appears to be easy to use but that is where it ends. In an attempt to be an alterative to the Blackberry, there is no compelling offer to a mobile warrior to abandon its trusted Blackberry. It is as though Nokia is throwing the smartphone out there because it has to until it figures out its next move.

This is the same for the Motorola Q except the Q seems to try and do it all which is where it can potentially hinder a mobile warrior and complicate his or her life. Motorola is hurting now. Once it finds its footing, it could be very interesting for the smartphone market.

For Palm, its multi-year death spiral has at least temporarily been stunted by the success of the Centro. Despite the age of the Palm OS, its got a winner in Centro. Not just as a form that is please to hold and use, it is doing exactly what it intends to do for it's target market: non-business consumers. It will do even better once the new OS is out. Whenever that is. If it can translate this success and direct it at the mobile warriors, it can reclaim at least a share to the title of smartphone king.

Then there is Windows Mobile. Licensees like HTC has to rely on Microsoft's innovative talents. So far, Redmond has not been very inspiring. Microsoft will be a long-term player owing largely to its desktop success. Windows Mobile will have tough road ahead if it does not figure out a way to break the link between Blackberry and e-mails and offer more. The office suite are adequate but it's Internet experience is horrible. A short cut would be to copy what Apple is doing with Safari. It won't be the first time Microsoft has duplicated Cupertino's best works.

Finally, there is Google's Android. It remains to be seen if it'll have the kind of impact the iPhone has had on the smartphone market. It will be a work in progress for years and it is nothing RIM will have to worry about in the short-term. It could have a disruptive effect on the low-end and consumer segment of the market.

So, while every website that is tracking smartphone movements is make this an iPhone-Blackberry fight, the real focus should be on the battle among the other smartphone makers. 2008 seems to be the year where everyone show their cards and 2009 and beyond is when the real fight for the smartphone market starts.

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