I recently posted about the Blackberry Thunder aka the touchscreen Blackberry and wanted to continue on the post. The challenge for RIM is to develop a product that can compete with the iPhone which is clearly the gold standard for a touchscreen device. This will be an interesting challenge on numerous levels.

First, RIM’s history is in making business email devices. The Blackberry is widely used in corporate America and is valued for how well it integrates with email and Exchange and Notes. The needs of these constituents is primarily business oriented and so the phones have not had the best multimedia or web features because historically those were not priorities. This will need to change dramatically if the device is supposed to realistically compete with the iPhone. This is not a simple task and will take serious development work.

Second, RIM’s history has always been with physical keypads. Every device they have shipped either has a QWERTY keypad or SureType pad. With the Thunder, they are trying to do away with it and take advantage of a touchscreen for navigation. This brings some interesting challenges because the way you interact with a keypad and the trackball in a traditional BB is very different from the way you would interact with a full touchscreen. It is unclear how well RIM will make this transition. Will the touchscreen simply be a weak add-on to replace the trackball as most touchscreen devices have been or will they re-think the interface fully and use the new interface to provide unique features and ease of navigation as Apple has done. If you want my opinion, I think that it will be too hard to make a quantum leap in interface and so I think that it will be the former.

Finally, as I previously posted, touchscreen devices have had very little penetration in the enterprise. It will be particularly interesting to see how the 3G iPhone and more importantly the Thunder changes that. Will these devices be compelling enough to convince people to ditch their keyboard devices? Will RIM provide enough value add in the device to make it worthwhile to switch from an existing Blackberry? These questions are not clear. One could clearly imagine how the iPhone’s penetration could accelerate in the enterprise given the clean sheet of paper approach that Apple took in designing, will the Thunder show the same revolutionary improvement particularly since it lacks a keyboard?

In short there are still many interesting questions out there pertaining to the new Blackberry Thunder. It is doubtful that we will get concrete answers to these questions until we see the first actual reviews of the Thunder and maybe not even until it ships. Until then, all we can do is speculate and watch what happens with the launch of the 3G iPhone. It could emerge is a serious competitor to the Blackberry franchise if it takes off.

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