For Blackberry, the lucky number 7?

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Research in Motion is the favorite whipping boy of one and all. No surprise; the company that was closely associated with the concept of smartphones in the Americas has been taking it on the chin from upstarts like Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android-based devices. RIM has fumbled badly with its strategy and products. It has been lumbering and has gotten a lot of flak for its complicated management structure. Even the insiders have been fed-up.

I was a long time Blackberry user, and I lost my device in a taxi when on my way to cover the HP Palm WebOS/Tablet launch. (Oh, the irony!) Here I am today: an iPhone (on Verizon) user. However, I always have and will always maintain a sweet spot for Blackberry devices. They are good for instant messaging and are really good for email. They often have good radio performance and have solid battery life. A lot of people still use them.

And while I have stopped doing reviews — Kevin Tofel does a much better job — I find time for the Blackberry devices for old times’ sake. A few weeks ago, RIM sent me three of their new devices that ran on three different U.S. phone networks: Sprint (Blackberry Curve), AT&T (Blackberry Torch) and Verizon (Blackberry Bold). And they were all powered by Blackberry OS 7.0.

With three different models all here at once, I have not been able to give each one ample time, but the one that has me captivated for now is the Verizon Blackberry Bold. It is ultra-thin, has a comfortable keyboard and has access to a fast network.

This is their newest touch-enabled OS and has a lot of under the hood tweaks. It’s incredibly fast (well, compared to the old Blackberry I was using); it has a decent enough browser, has fantastic/fluid graphics; and it feels much more modern. It’s sort of like me going and buying slim fit jeans: On the surface, I might look mod, but in reality, I’m a guy on the wrong side of forty. But as I said, it does a good job of papering over the shortcomings.

One aspect of Blackberry OS 7 I absolutely love is the touch capabilities. You see, after continuously using the iPhone and iPad, I find devices that don’t have touch capabilities incredibly inhuman and pointless. They end up raising my blood pressure a few points. Other Blackberry owners who have upgraded from their old devices (that I have talked to) find themselves pleasantly surprised as well.

To make a short review shorter, I can say OS 7.0 is good enough, and it also buys RIM a bit of time in the marketplace. Not a lot, but when you are perceived to be fighting for your life, every second counts. Smart guys at UBS Research, in a note to their clients Friday morning, pretty much affirmed my totally unscientific perceptions and put numbers around Blackberry OS 7’s impact on RIM’s bottom-line.

Our recent store checks in the U.S./Canada (see 8/19/11 note as well) point to a decent start for RIMMs new BB 7.0 phones, esp. the Bold, which, combined with the scope of the launch (global) and a lean channel, could lead to upside to our 11.8m and 13.1m phone unit [estimates] (sell in) for 2Q/3Q when RIMM reports on 9/15.

On a mid-term basis, we will be watching the effect of competing product launches such as the iPhone 5 and several Android devices expected later this year, seasonality, especially given increasing macro uncertainty. Ultimately, we will be looking to RIMM’s QNX transition along with other signs of what RIMM can or will do to meaningfully alter the balance of power in the mobile handset world.

RIMM’s two main pillars of growth — international expansion and enterprise — are increasingly under attack and we continue to believe the status quo will likely be only good enough to just keep RIMM in the game, but will not meaningfully slow its competitors. Competing ecosystems continue to innovate at a very rapid pace, and we continue to foresee eroding market share for RIMM longer term. [From UBS Research note sent via email]

Their long-term skepticism is justified. I don’t think Android and Apple are stoppable at this point, and anyone else is essentially fighting for the third spot. And this is where RIM has as much a chance as anyone else. A UBS survey found that nearly 62 percent of Blackberry owners are likely to buy another Blackberry, that is second only to Apple (with 95 percent likely to be repeat buyers of an Apple phone.)

For Blackberry, that could be something to start with.

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