RIM not worried by Torch critics – The Globe and Mail

Posted: September 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

There was a lot of advance hype for the BlackBerry Torch before its specs were first released in August, and even a few predictions that it could challenge Apple’s mighty iPhone

as the best smart phone on the market.

More related to this story


Will you consider buying a Torch when it launches in Canada?

Then there was disappointment.

Yes, Research In Motion (RIM-T50.041.643.39%) seemed to have combined the best of both worlds for smart phone users, by marrying a cool touch screen interface with the user-friendly QWERTY keyboard and security infrastructure the Canadian company is known for.

But tech geeks lamented that the internal gadgetry inside the Torch didn’t surpass – or even match – the specs of some of the competitors already on the market, namely the iPhone 4. The letdown just fuelled already rampant talk that RIM was losing its competitive edge in the smart phone space. The worst critics suggested RIM was slipping down the road to ruin.

The Torch is now being released in Canada starting Thursday, about seven weeks after its U.S. launch, and BlackBerry’s director of marketing admits it doesn’t out-tech the competition. But the Waterloo, Ont.-based company doesn’t see that as a problem, and thinks the average plugged-in consumer – geeks aside – will be impressed.

“You have to draw a line in the sand at some point and say, ‘OK, these are the internal specs that we’re going to stick with,’ knowing that potentially there could be products out there in the market at the same time that have higher specs. But you kind of have to make the decision,” said Michael McDowell in a recent interview.

“Yeah, when you look on paper the specs aren’t equal to some of our competitors in market, but … we’re pretty confident the experience in this product is top notch, specs aside, and we’re getting a good response on that.”

The company recently threw launch parties in Toronto and Vancouver targeting so-called “influencers,” a mix of celebrities, reporters, PR reps and social media mavens. Free phones were handed out to those in attendance in an attempt to start some viral word-of-mouth buzz in advance of the Torch’s release. RIM is also crafting its marketing campaign to suggest the Torch will be the phone of choice for cool tastemakers. Commercials highlight how DJs, photographers, surfers and rugby players might use the device.

It’s a smart strategy, said Duncan Stewart, Deloitte’s director of research for technology, media and telecommunications. In reality, the tech-obsessed cynics who complained about the Torch’s specs represent a small percentage of RIM’s target market, he said.

“There’s a weird dynamic going on, when new phones come out people say, ‘Yeah, but it’s not the iPhone’ … but expecting every single phone to be exactly like the iPhone – or then be a miserable failure – is almost certainly not the way the consumer market works,” Stewart said.

“The fact that it’s not the iPhone is perhaps not a killer weakness, in some markets it may even be an advantage.”

RIM has used U2 and the Black Eyed Peas as pitchmen in the past and has snuck BlackBerrys into TV shows and films, with recent examples including product placements on “Entourage” and “The Town.”

“That’s a really important way of marketing,” Stewart said. “The phone business is very much becoming less about what chip is inside your phone, or what standard does it conform to, and rather it’s what celebrities carry it.”

But Nick Bontis, associate professor at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business, said RIM is at risk of losing customers for good if they’re not impressed by the Torch. RIM once had the reputation of making no mistakes with its products, but its touchscreen strategy has been underwhelming so far, Bontis said.

“The interesting thing about bleeding edge technology is you live by the sword and you die by the sword,” he said.

“Once you get the expectation out there to the marketplace that you will be bleeding edge, the problem is you have to maintain it and as soon as you don’t, you disappoint your customers.”


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