BlackBerry Torch Won't Burn Apple or Google

Last Updated Aug 3, 2010 7:28 PM EDT

RIM (RIMM) announced its BlackBerry Touch smartphone with a slide-out keyboard. Going on sale in two weeks for $199 with a two-year contract from AT&T (T), the device is the first to offer the BlackBerry 6 operating system, which is RIM's answer to the towering competitors of Google (GOOG) Android and Apple iPhone. Will this help RIM get back in the game? Uh ... probably not.

It's hard to tell overly much from initial impressions of the tech savvy who have their hands on the product, but early word back is that BlackBerry 6, while decent enough, isn't anywhere near the level of breakthrough that RIM needed to beat back both Google and Android. Look at some of the aspects that the company stressed during its product launch:

  • The new OS finally has a WebKit-based browser. That's the same WebKit that Apple created, used in Safari, and turned open source, and that Google used in Chrome.
  • A number of news, information, and music apps come with the phone, and there's an app store. So far, still in third place.
  • There's a touch screen, available after being standard issue on RIM's two main rivals for ... years.
  • A 5 megapixel camera and flash is nothing startling.
  • Search everything on your phone from one tool, which sounds like the Android Quick Search Box, available since version 1.6.
Such things as better media handling and improved use of the home screen are fine, as are social media and RSS feeds, but these aren't killer features that will make the 50 percent of RIM's current customers who plan to buy a competitive device next rethink their decisions. On second thought, it might be that it will for some, because they're comfortable with the BlackBerry and might now feel that they don't have to give up too much to stick. However, that's hardly the reaction that RIM banked on. As Boy Genius Report said of a quick hands-on:
On one hand, OS 6 is a much better UI leap from OS 5 than OS 5 was to OS 4, but it still feels a bit not thought out. On the other hand, the device seems like it will continue to excel at specific functions, mainly email, any sort of text-based messaging, etc. My personal thought so far is: this is a stop gap device for current BlackBerry users-- and that's an issue. iPhone 4 or recent Android owners won't be lusting after the 9800, and that's never a good thing.
It's not as though RIM is the only one in this predicament. A couple of weeks ago, reviewers got their hands on an advanced copy of Microsoft (MSFT) Windows Phone 7. The verdict? Good, but not good enough to be a dual iPhone and Android killer. And, frankly, the reviews of Windows Phone 7 -- granted, the reviewers didn't focus on the prototype hardware -- were largely far stronger than what RIM faces.

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Image: Research In Motion
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.