Research In Motion this week is expected to unveil a new touchscreen BlackBerry and upgraded version of its flagship platform in the hopes of better competing with Apple and Google. But as I discuss in my weekly column over at GigaOM Pro, there’s little chance the aging BlackBerry OS will be a worthy adversary of its younger, more sophisticated counterparts.
RIM’s ability to ride the surging smartphone tide and expand beyond the boardroom has been impressive, but momentum is slowing. BlackBerry’s share of the U.S. smartphone market has fallen a precipitous 14 points in the last year, according to recent figures from Gartner. Indeed, Forbes earlier this year predicted the iPhone will overtake BlackBerry’s share of the worldwide handset market by early next year.
As anyone who has used a BlackBerry knows, there are several reasons the device is falling out of favor. BlackBerry OS has failed to support the kind of rich-media that lures consumers. And the platform’s inferior web browser is so slow and kludgy it has more in common with a feature phone than, say, Apple’s Safari. That lack of consumer-friendly features has become costly for RIM because employers are increasingly letting employees choose their own phones as the lines blur between work and play.
BlackBerry’s most glaring weaknesses can be addressed — or perhaps even erased — if the company produces a world-class version of its OS. Indeed, early reports indicate RIM has finally developed a smartphone-worthy browser a full year after acquiring the startup Torch Mobile.
But it’s unlikely that it’s even possible for RIM to compete with the newer platforms. BlackBerry OS is a dated platform built to support enterprise applications and to “mobilize” corporate email — not to deliver high-quality multimedia or a compelling web experience. So while BlackBerry 6 may add some bells and whistles, the OS simply can’t keep pace technologically with younger platforms. Unless RIM has a huge surprise up its sleeve in the form of an entirely new OS — and there’s no indication it does — upgrading the platform is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig whose wrinkles become more apparent by the day.
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