The BlackBerry Torch is setting off a storm of media commentary — considerably more than was generated by the introduction of the BlackBerry Storm, RIM's first attempt at a touchscreen phone.
The BlackBerry Torch, available next week exclusively through AT&T (which also offers the iPhone), is still very much a down-to-business BlackBerry — but with features like a touchscreen and more apps that make it more competitive with the iPhone and Droid smartphones.
Tech writers today offered mixed reviews, while new sales figures show that BlackBerry owner Research in Motion can't afford to make a false move.
Nielsen survey released Monday that indicates 57% of U.S. BlackBerry owners would consider switching to an iPhone, bringing the word "dinosaur" to mind. NPD Group also reports that Android sales overtook BlackBerry sales in the second quarter, marking the second such quarter and continued sleepless nights for BlackBerry's Canadian creators.
“Blackberry 6 will soon offer features that have been popular in recently launched Android handsets, such as support for capacitive touchscreens and a WebKit-based browser. However, the Blackberry Torch lacks the large screen allure that has characterized the best selling Android devices at its price point, including the Droid Incredible and EVO 4G,” NPD analyst Ross Rubin stated.
“For the second consecutive quarter, Android handsets have shown strong but slowing sell-through market share gains among U.S. consumers. While the Google-developed OS took market share from RIM, Apple’s iOS saw a small gain this quarter on the strength of the iPhone 4 launch.”
Is Torch too little too late? Computerworld's Barbara Krasnoff writes in Bloomberg Businessweek, "While it's unlikely that the Torch will draw consumers away from their iPhones and Android devices, at least BlackBerry users won't be completely left in the dust."
Krasnoff says the phone's new operating system is "elegant and simple to use and understand." She liked the "universal inbox," which features all email and social network messages on one display, and concludes, "For business users who want something lightweight and practical, but with the multimedia and apps featured in the newest generation of mobile devices, the BlackBerry Torch 9800 could be their next smartphone."
Wilson Rothman of MSNBC.com is considerably more negative. "This could very well mean the end for the BlackBerry," he writes. Rothman says, with the exception of the new "Wi-Fi sync" capability, the new operating system "is just slick me-too-ware." He says with the Torch, BlackBerry is just playing catch up, and "catch-up time might have already run out."
PC World's Daniel Ionescu notes a few other tech pundits who give Torch less than stellar reviews.
For instance, Gartner's Ken Dulaney says, "I just don't see the BlackBerry Torch as a phone that will compete with the iPhone or any of the touchscreen Android phones." Kevin Tofel writes for GigaOm, "Expanding RIM's base will be tough because I saw little today that will pull existing consumers away from a comparably priced iPhone or Android handset."
Matt Buchanan of Gizmodo also observes, "The Torch and BlackBerry OS 6 take what Blackberry's already doing and move it forward slightly — they're not reinventing, overturning, or blowing up things."
Mashable's Christina Warren, meanwhile, wonders if there's "enough flame" in the Torch, while Fast Company's Dan Nosowitz doesn't think the brand is (necessarily) doomed to be North America's Nokia, provided its owners don't mess up.
Combine such observations with the worrying market trends above, and it's clear that BlackBerry-maker RIM needs to think bigger ... or go home.