Research In Motion today announced a partnership with China Telecom to sell the BlackBerry Storm handset to enterprise customers in 16 provinces. As part of the deal, China Telecom will also offer RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server for integrated messaging and communications. The move is seen by some as aimed at upending China Telecom’s rival, China Unicom, which has carried the Apple iPhone since October of last year, but these two phones — and the target audiences — couldn’t be more different.
When RIM introduced the touchscreen BlackBerry Storm in 2008, many suggested it was the device to dethrone Apple’s iPhone. But it was plagued by poor reviews and a buggy implementation. As Om noted in January 2009, with the Storm, RIM didn’t play to its strengths; instead, it attempted to create an iPhone-like experience and fell far short of the mark. I remember the Storm hype back then, but I also remember how quickly it dissipated not long after launch — and therein lies the other challenge.
Why is China Telecom trying to sell enterprises a BlackBerry handset without a hardware keyboard when mobile workers are primarily using handsets to communicate via text message and email? When it comes to enterprise mobility, RIM’s products and solutions are typically high up on the list, and for good reason. But that reason doesn’t include touchscreen devices — the workhorses in RIM’s enterprise stables are keyboard devices such as the Bold and Tour. Is this a case of the wrong device for the wrong market? It seems to me that RIM would do better in an enterprise market with a keyboard device better suited to productivity. Especially if RIM wants to compete with the iPhone in China, it should be targeting consumers with the Storm.
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