Fast Company

New RIM, Nokia Phones Out, Ready to Lose the Smartphone War

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The veil has just lifted on two new BlackBerrys due soon. They look just like older BB's. Along with bad news about Nokia's N8, the future of these big players looks grim.

What we have on the table from RIM are the BlackBerry Bold 9650 and the Pearl 3G. See anything wonderfully new? Nope? Well, both have BlackBerry's new touch TrackPad controller...and, well, they're new! The 9650 has a 3.2 megapixel camera, GPS, a "large, high-resolution screen," 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, and comes in either a quad-band GSM version or a dual-band CMDA version. Meanwhile the candybar Pearl 3G is a GSM-only device, with the same spec camera and a similar "large, high-resolution screen," though it does have boosted Wi-Fi powers, being specification "n" capable.

Except, those screens don't look particularly large. And the designs are almost exactly the same as forerunner BlackBerrys. These devices simply add to the huge list of phones on sale from RIM and add nothing whatsoever to the brand: They're not revolutionary in looks, and their specs equal or are bested by a horde of other smartphones out there already--let alone ones that'll arrive in the coming months. These two new phones actually dilute BlackBerry's brand identity, in fact.

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Meanwhile Nokia's hyped super-fabulous upcoming smartphone, the N8, running the recently delayed "iPhone-killing" Symbian^3 OS, has also leaked out to a Russian Web site and been given a pretty full-on review. We'll spare you the details, and give you the important summary: It's nothing special, at all. In fact, the new Symbian OS seems to be little more than a slightly tweaked and upgraded version of the earlier software...meaning Nokia's not transformed its user experience at all. And if, like me, you're not a fan of the stilted, non-intuitive UI Nokia phone's sport, this is bad news. Given the revolution in smartphone operating systems, being pushed by Apple, Windows Phone, Android and, to some extent, Palm, this is actually terrible news. For Nokia, at least.

What's going on inside these two companies? RIM seems to be blundering on, releasing "new" devices that are incremental tweaks to its old ones. And yes, that recipe worked phenomenally well before. But the smartphone world (and indeed the tech world as a whole) evolves so very fast that if you become complacent--with an "if we build it, they will come" attitude--then you'll very quickly fall behind the cutting edge, and your dominant role in the market will very quickly diminish and then die. And once your company's earned the PR image of being old hat, it's very hard to change the public's mind. This is very roughly what's happened to Nokia, though in the case of the cell phone giant, it's also a distinct lack of investment in R&D to push the tech, which is unforgivable given the company's pile of cash.

Neither RIM nor Nokia is going to disappear soon, but these phones are a bad, bad sign, folks: The cutting edge has slipped out of these companies' grip.

Update: RIM has officially announced the two new phones. They are, as expected, incremental fixes to earlier devices (the 9650 tackles the problems with the popular Tour). But neither official spec sheet reveals a single "wow" factor piece of information about these devices.

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1 Comments

  • Preet Bhogal

    I don't completely disagree with you but Blackberries are just different: they're a niche and Blackberry users are loyal. They have their problems and I agree RIM needs to step up its game. Then again, I'm an anomaly in that I switched to Blackberry from my iPhone and I don't regret it. While the iPhone is amazing, the Blackberry is just so much more efficient when it comes to communicating and scheduling. (Then again... from what I hear about the iPhone 4.0 I might be switching back after I try it out...). As for Nokia? Meh.