BlackBerry Curve blurs consumer, business lines

BlackBerry Curve, the latest smartphone from RIM, has entertainment features that could blur the divide between business and consumer mobile devices.

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BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) last week announced its latest device, the Curve, with enough bells and whistles to entice consumer smartphone users, further blurring the lines between devices designed for business and those built for pleasure.

While taking a somewhat consumer-focused tack is nothing new for BlackBerry -- the Pearl and 8800 are prime examples -- the Curve is the first to clearly include functions and tools that could potentially have little or no use behind enterprise walls but are still likely to find their way into corporate America.

"We're finding a lot of crossover appeal," said David Heit, director of enterprise product management for RIM, noting that the days of toting around a work device and a personal device in a Batman-style utility belt are long gone. "The less technology I have to carry with me, the better off I am."

The Curve targets tech-savvy end users and features a 2.0 megapixel camera with built-in flash, five-times zoom and photo editing effects; an enhanced media player that can sort music and play video in full-screen mode; a media manager developed by CD-burning mainstay Roxio, which lets users edit and share files, build playlists, create albums, add audio tags, rip CDs and edit pictures; a stereo headset jack supporting Bluetooth Stereo Audio; and a memory card slot for storage of pictures, music and video.

Along with the glitz and glamour, however, comes BlackBerry's strong business functionality -- a full QWERTY keyboard, email and messaging, an integrated spell-checker and dictionary, trackball navigation and voice recognition.

Jack Gold, principal and founder of J.Gold Associates, a Northborough, Mass.-based research and advisory firm, summed up the Curve as "a basic BlackBerry plus entertainment features." He noted, though, that those entertainment features could present trouble when devices such as the Curve penetrate enterprise walls.

"There is a real problem out there right now," Gold said. "Many large companies do not want their users to have cameras – [that's] why they left it off the full-size keyboard Pearl device [the 8800]. They are a bit less concerned about music players, since [they have] less risk of causing problems [such as] loss of sensitive data."

But the features that may trouble IT are what draws in the users, who in the past wanted the slickest devices but now want an attractive device with a host of features.

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 "Users, on the other hand, love all the toys, including cameras," Gold said. "So BlackBerry has a device for corporate users who need a full QWERTY keyboard without a camera, and now they have the Curve for those users who want more entertainment features plus a camera. It will appeal to business users who don't violate a company policy by having a camera phone and will appeal to many SMB and other business people as well as pro-sumers."

Gartner Inc. principal analyst Todd Kort agreed, adding that the Curve will appeal to all types of users. He said the primary difference between the Curve and 8800 models is the built-in camera. The 8800 offers GPC, however.

"In many enterprise environments, a camera is frowned upon," Kort said, and that could make the 8800 "more attractive to RIM's traditional customer base." But industries such as real estate and insurance often embrace camera phones for quick, on-the-spot photographs.

"Unless the enterprise buys the devices and locks them down, they really have no choice but to accept that users are going to load personal applications such as music and photos onto their devices," he said. "RIM is satisfying that need by offering a more consumer-friendly version of the [8800] with the [Curve]."

Kort added that the integration of spell-check on the Curve suggests that RIM may include that feature on future BlackBerry models.

"Actually, the vast majority of smartphones are purchased by consumers/pro-sumers," he said. "Nokia account[s] for roughly half of worldwide smartphone shipments [but has] modest success with these devices in enterprise accounts. It is consumers and pro-sumers that are driving most of the growth in the market."

Kort continued: "Most Palm Treos are purchased by pro-sumers in small business. The medical market is the only enterprise market where Palm continues to hold a strong grip."

BlackBerry has typically targeted the enterprise market, however, so the Curve is a sign that RIM is taking a new direction, Kort said.

Another catalyst for devices straddling the line between consumers and professionals is the drop in device prices that has been realized over the last year or so.

"Until the launch of the Motorola Q, it was difficult to find a smartphone or cellular PDA for under $300," Kort said. "Now you can get the BlackBerry Pearl, Motorola Q and Samsung BlackJack for free -- with a two-year service plan -- if you shop around. This makes these devices attractive to a very wide audience."

Couple the pricing burst with the availability of reasonably priced unlimited data plans, and wireless email becomes a rapidly growing phenomenon, which also fuels a swift increase in devices released with full QWERTY keyboards.

Now that many smartphones -- such as those from Palm, Motorola and Nokia, and most Microsoft-powered phones -- offer entertainment features, it's only natural, according to Gold, that RIM should create a competitive offering with similar capabilities while also keeping it a player in the BlackBerry infrastructure.

"This phone gets them closer to the entertainment device, while also offering BlackBerry compatibility," Gold said. "Not a bad position to be in. I believe you will see RIM make increasingly 'entertainment-enabled' devices to compete with Nokia, Moto, Samsung. This is a direction the market is going in, and they have to be competitive. However, I suspect they will also have some devices that are enterprise-friendly and enterprise-targeted that exclude some of these features to meet stricter company policies. But this will probably not be the majority of the devices."

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