Reminding everyone that they’re still in the mobile game, Research In Motion announced five new BlackBerry OS 7 handsets Wednesday. Actually, of the five, two were previously introduced: RIM (s rimm) showed off the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9930 in May, but those models haven’t arrived in stores yet. The BlackBerry Torch line will see three slightly upgraded models: The 9810 includes a slide-out keyboard, while the 9850 and 9860 are touchscreen only with the largest displays on a BlackBerry device yet at 3.7-inches.
All five handsets run on BlackBerry 7 OS, which is a stop-gap platform until RIM transitions its smartphone lineup to the QNX-powered operating system it uses for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet. That means for most, these new handsets are incremental upgrades in terms of software, because a new generation of BlackBerry handsets running a completely different operating system will be forthcoming. RIM expects carriers to begin selling the new handsets by the end of this month. AT&T (s t) has already announced it will offer the 4G BlackBerry Torch 9810 this month and later follow with 4G versions of the Bold 9900 and Torch 9860.
In terms of software, RIM is touting a speedier Internet experience with an improved WebKit browser that’s 40 percent faster than BB 6 devices and twice as fast as older BB 5 smartphones. Helping to boost performance is RIM’s Liquid Graphics technology. The latest BBM client and voice-activated universal search add to the experience. On the hardware side, RIM is using 1.2 GHz processors to boost performance and high-resolution displays to improve the user experience. The new 3.7-inch screen of the Torch 9850 and 9860, for example is 800×480 resolution. The two Bold models include support for near-field communication (NFC) chips that could be used for mobile payments. And high-definition video recording is a staple on the handsets as well.
Still, when RIM announced the two new Bold devices in May, I said the upgrades weren’t aggressive enough. And although the new handsets show positive evolution and will surely sell to the BlackBerry faithful, I keep coming back to one thought: RIM is trying grow its smartphone business in 2012 with phones and a platform that evokes thoughts of 2010. That doesn’t mean these handsets will flop. Some will buy them and be happy — but not enough to counteract RIM’s slowing sales figures in a market that’s growing overall — but I say 2012 because we’ll be entering the final third of 2011 when the first of these new BlackBerry devices arrive. They’ll power sales (or not as the case may be) at least through the first half of 2012.
Remember that RIM purchased QNX in April of 2010, mainly for the platform and strong Adobe (s adbe) Flash operation in the QNX operating system. Instead of building a new smartphone platform with the sale, RIM spent a year building a tablet, which in hindsight, may not have been the best approach. The tablet market is only just beginning; there’s time to build a solid product there and still compete. But the smartphone market is RIM’s bread and butter. The company should have made a fast transition to QNX on the handset where it would have benefitted faster from the tens of millions of smartphones sold every quarter.
Ultimately, the problem for RIM’s handsets comes down to 2007, however. Apple (s aapl) introduced the iPhone that year, and only Google (s goog) responded by creating a solid touchscreen experience and growing Android ecosystem in 2008. We’re closing in on 2012, and RIM’s best response is still in the works.
Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr user americanistadechiapas