In an attempt to avoid what likely would have been significant erosion to its installed base, RIM announced its BlackBerry Bold this week. Information is leaking out, but we know less about the second-generation iPhone. The fact that it remains an entertainment-oriented device suggests that, for business, it makes sense to hold off on buying the new iPhone until the Bold shows up.
Having said that, the two players are actually fairly well matched.
RIM: Boldly Going Where iPhone Has Gone Before
RIM has been the dominant player in the corporate-oriented smartphone space for some time. It got into this space by first partnering with a number of PC manufacturers and doing top-down selling through the boards and executive staff of businesses, and through top government officials to drive down into government.
With BlackBerries, it is typical that the company supplies the device and the service, allowing RIM to sell in bulk. However, it has been expanding individual sales.
The focus for RIM is to make the BlackBerry a messaging device. Its closest competitor has been the Motorola Q with Good Technology, but this solution, which lacks a line of phones or a similar direct selling capability, and is under-marketed, has never risen to be much of a threat.
BlackBerries have historically not been particularly attractive, though this changed with the BlackBerry Pearl; many found it much more attractive, but it wasn't as easy to use for e-mail, trading size for capability and adding multi-media features.
The announced BlackBerry Bold uses iPhone design elements to create a sexy device that appears solidly focused on the traditional BlackBerry strength of e-mail. Sporting a tri-band HSDPA radio and including integrated GPS and Wi-Fi, this phone's purpose is to aggressively defend against the iPhone. It appears to be a solid effort.
One advantage RIM has that we shouldn't forget is that it typically is carrier agnostic and sells through a variety of them. Apple, to get the deals it needed, typically has one carrier exclusively (though this may be changing).
The only problem is, and it's a big one, is that it won't actually be available for sale until late summer or possibly over two months after the iPhone arrives.
Much of what is written about the second-generation iPhone is conjecture. But unlike the BlackBerry Bold, which is rooted in years of BlackBerry products, the iPhone has its roots in the iPod. This makes the iPhone more of an entertainment device with one exception -- the browser doesn't support Flash, but otherwise has proven to be one of the best on a cell phone.
The iPhone 2.0 gains several critical enhancements for business. It should integrate much better than the 1.0 product with enterprise e-mail systems, but it won't work with a BlackBerry server. It is much more secure, but it can't yet be centrally managed using tools already in place to manage BlackBerries.
It has full 3 G radios and it may support GPS, video conferencing, and VoIP (Voice over IP) capability. Because iPhones are now sold out in most geographies, speculation is increasing that the new iPhone may launch before the expected June 9th date. Rumors suggest a second device is coming that is 1.5 times larger than the iPhone and vastly more capable. But given that Apple regularly leaks false rumors to cover up what it is actually releasing, such rumors have to be discounted. It is still expected to eventually bring out a smaller iPhone to complete the line.
Hold for Bold for Business
The second half of the year is expected to have refreshed products from Samsung, LG, Motorola, Nokia and HTC, which has already announced its Diamond. These phones are comparatively expensive and will come with multi-year service plans, so waiting a few months to make your choice may give you a better one than the iPhone can provide for business. In any case, particularly for RIM shops, the Bold appears to be the best choice on paper. Then again, that is the nature of vaporware; it always looks better on paper. So hold on. Money is tight anyway, and we don't have enough information on most of these products to make an informed choice yet. In any case, waiting a few weeks is a lot less painful than getting two years of "I told you so" comments from coworkers and family.