Research In Motion (RIM) Ltd has refused to comment on pictures circulating on the internet that appear to show a BlackBerry-branded device in a more conventional handset form factor. The device, which appears to be real, could indicate a reappraisal by RIM of its hardware business at a time when its emphasis appeared to be veering towards software.
The pictures, most of which have rapidly been removed from the offending sites, show a considerably slimmer device than current BlackBerrys that also lacks the device’s signature, 10-key-wide Qwerty thumb pad. Instead, the device appears to designate two letters to a single key in a five-wide design with predictive text input filling in the uncertainty. It is otherwise similar in general form factor to today’s breed of candybar-shaped smart phones.
While unable to confirm RIM’s provenance of the device to ComputerWire, Charmaine Eggberry, RIM’s enterprise business unit VP for Europe, hinted that new-style devices could be on RIM’s roadmap, despite the fact that the company continues to plug the utility of its Qwerty design for users.
We don’t comment on unreleased products but we are always looking at form factors and their acceptability to people. We’re trying to accommodate a variety of market segments, she said.
Rumors that RIM has considered slimmer form factors for its BlackBerry range of devices have circulated for some time, possibly under the codename Charm. However, the photographs mark the first solid evidence that the company may indeed be close to launching something more akin to a typical mobile phone.
But whether RIM would actually pursue such a strategy remains unclear. The company’s recent BlackBerry Connect and BlackBerry Built-in programs, by which third-party hardware manufacturers are able to license either RIM’s connectivity stack or its entire applications suite, have indicated a move away from its dependence on hardware sales.
However, the recent surge in demand for BlackBerry handhelds indicates that there could be considerably more mileage for RIM in maintaining its own hardware business alongside offering support for other device vendors.
Devices accounted for 68% of RIM’s revenues in its most recent quarter. A year ago that figure was closer to 50%. Sacrificing two thirds of its revenue stream would make even less sense than sacrificing half of it.
According to recent market analyses, RIM has now become a large volume vendor of handheld devices. Gartner Inc, for instance, puts RIM third among PDA vendors in its second quarter 2004 rankings with shipments of 510,000 units, an increase of 289% over the year-ago period. That amounted to 18.9% of the total global market.
Only Hewlett-Packard and PalmOne ranked higher in the PDA stakes, with 530,000 and 913,000 units shipped respectively, although all have fallen a long way behind smart phone leader Nokia, which claimed closer to two million shipments in the second quarter according to Canalys Ltd.