The 411: The future of BlackBerry

Every two weeks, CNET editor Nicole Lee answers your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories in The 411.

Welcome to The 411, my column answering all your questions about cell phones and cell phone accessories. I receive plenty of questions about these subjects via e-mail, so I figured many of you might have similar queries, too. At times, I might solicit answers from readers if I'm stumped. Send your questions and comments to me at nicole.lee@cnet.com. If you prefer to remain anonymous, let me know in the e-mail.

Is the PlayBook the future of RIM?
Is the PlayBook the future of RIM? RIM

Question: My question is regarding RIM and their BlackBerry line of phones. They seem to be getting a lot of bad press lately. One item that keeps coming up is that they stick to their "stoic" candy bar style design and how it's out of style (they keep mentioning that it doesn't draw in the younger generation).

I am 23 years old and I find their signature BlackBerry design to be perfect and really somewhat unique. I say unique because everyone is either doing a slider or a touch-only slab. There are many young people who don't like sliders and still want a physical keyboard. The other thing that comes up is their lack of respectable specs (processors etc.) and their OS. I for one have always questioned why their OS is considered "antiquated" especially since it does all of the same things that other OSes do.

My question is: Why is RIM getting so much heat for their BlackBerry line, even when the new versions coming up have touch screens and updated processors? Is there too much hype over Android and iOS? Aren't people aware that Android is fragmented? Isn't the overall user experience more valuable to people? Let me know your thoughts and thanks for reading this. -- Adam, via e-mail

That's one meaty question, Adam. You are right that RIM has been on the receiving end of some bad press, particularly in comparison with the other smartphone operating systems like Android and iOS. While many people like yourself consider themselves hardcore BlackBerry fans, the fact is that BlackBerry has been around for much longer than Android and iOS, and is therefore seen by many as a dinosaur in the mobile space. It also doesn't help that BlackBerrys have long been seen more as corporate gadgets than consumer ones. As other smartphones gained more consumer mindshare, BlackBerry seems to have lagged behind in that space.

However, I actually agree with you that the strength of the BlackBerry lies in its iconic candy bar style. While it's certainly not as flashy or attention-grabbing as larger touch-screen phones, the simplicity of the design and the interface is attractive to those who don't need a lot of pomp and pageantry. It handles e-mail and messaging extremely well, and specs like GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth are pretty standard across the BlackBerry line. I am personally a fan of the BlackBerry Bold and its great keyboard.

That said, if RIM wants to compete against Android and iOS, it can't stand still. It needs to innovate in order to attract new customers, not just keep the existing ones. That's why it started to introduce the touch-screen phones like the Storm and the Torch. That's why it introduced a new OS with BlackBerry OS 6. However, in the eyes of the press, it's too little, too late. OS 6 seemed more evolutionary than revolutionary, with an interface that appeared to cater more to existing customers than try to attract new ones. While we definitely liked it--universal search is great, for example--we were expecting something a little more groundbreaking. We also liked the recently released BlackBerry Torch and BlackBerry Style, but again, the competition just looks so much sexier with phones like the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy S.

Also, while RIM was trying to come up with a new OS, Android leaped forward several times over with even more features. Android has the advantage of complete integration with Google apps and services like Gmail and Google Voice, which many of today's tech-savvy consumers appreciate. iOS has the advantage of working seamlessly with iTunes and a simple no-nonsense UI that even children can use. And, of course, we can't forget the third-party apps--both iOS and Android have a wealth of apps in their respective app stores that BlackBerry has yet to match.

This might be the reason a lot of us in the industry are excited about the RIM PlayBook . Finally, it seemed that somebody in RIM had gotten a clue. The QNX platform looks fantastic, and we were very impressed by the PlayBook when we saw it in person. Yes, there are still problems with it, and of course, we can't really evaluate it until it's actually released, but for now, the PlayBook is probably the most exciting product coming out of RIM. It's just unfortunate that the company's smartphones have not garnered as much buzz.

Clearly, this is an issue that is bound to create some controversy, and there will be people who agree and disagree about the future of the BlackBerry. Let us know what you think in the comments, but please, keep it civil.

 

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