The general consensus following the release of the BlackBerry Torch in the tech journalism sphere was that RIM had failed to put out a competitor to the iPhone and Android smartphones, and had therefore failed. Since we’re never really about swimming with the other salmon here on Techi, I decided to hold a very unscientific poll of a few friends and colleagues who were already BlackBerry users to see if they agreed with the pundits.
BlackBerry Users Are Loyal
Overwhelmingly, they did not. Out of about six people, only one definitively stated that they would be switching to an iPhone. The rest were either sticking with the BlackBerry they had or planning to upgrade to the Torch as soon as they could get their hands on it.
There are a few reasons for this. My friends and colleagues are nearly all over thirty, meaning of course that they can’t be trusted and are generally reluctant to adapt to new technologies once they have one figured out. They are also overwhelmingly Canadian, and we Canadians tend to feel a little homegrown pride about our tech. Bioware, RIM, and Ubisoft may as well have giant maple leaves as logos, as far as we’re all concerned. The folks polled are also in the publishing, accounting, and legal worlds, all three of which are better suited to a secure BlackBerry e-mail environment than the less secure e-mail environments that other smartphones offer.
Cited Polls Released Before Torch Was
It is also worth noting that the poll that was being cited in many of the more negative articles was released on August 2nd, and the Torch was only released in the US on August 12th. The Nielsen poll stated that 29% of BlackBerry users wanted to upgrade to an iPhone and 21% would upgrade to an Android, but remember that this poll was done in July, before anyone could even get their hands on a Torch. I’d like to see the results of one done in about a month, after most BlackBerry users have had an opportunity to see a Torch in action. The iPhone did force RIM to put a lot of work into creating the Torch in order to ensure that it did not lose its faithful core, something which they may have done a bit late, but they still managed to do it.
We also forget that the BlackBerry is the overwhelming choice of the business world, something that RIM reinforces in their marketing and extreme product placement with Ari on the most current season of Entourage. Ari’s Crackberry addiction is not far off of the mental attitude of many business BlackBerry users. It isn’t the device they are addicted to, it is how well it organizes their lives for them, and how easy it has made it to stay in touch with life at work. However, ask many of them to change that device, and you may find your arm gnawed off in short order. While the latest BlackBerry Torch sales numbers are disheartening, it is again being compared to the iPhone, an apples/oranges comparison that really doesn’t make a lot of sense considering the differing user bases.
I was pretty impressed with the review Torch that they sent a few weeks back. Sure, the BlackBerry App World is miles behind Apple’s AppStore, but they have all of the majors in there like Yelp, Bloomberg Mobile, and anything else that you may need to navigate your life. It is also spanking brand new, and likely to grow at a monstrous pace, so naturally there are only a few applications in there now compared to what there may be in just a few months.
The main complaint about the BlackBerry has been its postage-stamp size screen, which now has been nearly doubled in surface area to a workable dimension that is only a little less than the iPhone. If you are jonesing to do a little reading on a road trip, the Torch screen is good enough that it can function quite well as an ebook reader.
Give Me a Thumb Keyboard or Give Me Death
Then there is the not-a-member-of-the-T9-generation factor. I find texting on a mobile phone to be one of the most heinous tasks imaginable. On a keyboard, I have a typing speed that makes me chew through keyboards at the rate of about one every six months, so trying to type out a single sentence on a phone is kind of like water torture for me. The touch screen on the iPhone isn’t much better for me, since my ham fingers usually slide about one letter off. The BlackBerry slideout keyboard, however, takes me up to two thumbs rather than one finger, and allows me to at least approach keyboard speed, making the task of an e-mail a lot less arduous. And when you type a lot of e-mails in a day, that is a very important distinction between the two technologies.
So yes. In the end, the Torch is not an iPhone. It doesn’t have the native apps of the AppStore, or the star power cachet that naturally accompanies an Apple product. It doesn’t have the technical specifications of the latest Android smartphones, including a lower-than-generally-acceptable screen resolution. It is not a media device, like other smart phones, but a business device that now acceptably handles media.
The Torch has BBM’s, secure e-mail, a workable touchscreen display, a two-thumb keyboard, and a vehemently loyal user base. And that, dear pundits and RIM haters, is enough to make the Torch a success in the eyes of most BlackBerry users. It wasn’t built as an iPhone destroyer; it was built as a workover for the higher-end BlackBerry line. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. But it wasn’t built as a head-on competitor for the iPhone, so let’s stop beating it up for not polling the same numbers.