BlackBerry manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM) is jumping on the mobile content and services bandwagon, with new applications and software central to its strategy.
RIM, along with other handset manufacturers, seems to be rushing to conquer the potentially lucrative territory somewhere between the consumer and business segments.
Manufacturers traditionally associated with the business end of the market are creating more consumer-friendly products, such as the Sony Ericsson Windows Mobile Xperia phone.
Similarly, those at the consumer end of the market are producing more business-focused handsets, such as Samsung’s i200, dubbed ‘my first smartphone’ by the company.
BlackBerry started going after what it calls the ‘prosumer’ market with the launch of its Pearl range. The consumer-focused handsets have proved to be successful, with the BlackBerry 8110 ranking as the 16th most popular phone bought on contract last week (Mobile Tracker, 7 March).
Continuing the strategy of targeting the less corporate segments, RIM has struck deals with over 730 application manufacturers to create content and services for BlackBerry users.
James Hart, RIM’s senior director of channel marketing for EMEA, told Mobile: ‘This is a strategy that we have embarked on and is something you don’t do in one year. We come from the work side, but increasingly we are also starting to look at the lifestyle side. It’s the convergence of work and life.’
Moving beyond mobile email, the applications cover a range of functions, from business services such as corporate instant messaging, to entertainment services including Yahoo!’s Go application or Facebook’s social networking site.
Hart said: ‘We see our relationship with Facebook [and the other applications] as something that is necessary for us to penetrate the consumer market.
‘We are starting off at the professional level, but our intention is to make the BlackBerry available to everyone.’
RIM’s strategy to push BlackBerry owners into getting content and applications on their handsets has so far been successful. The manufacturer claims that more than 70% of BlackBerry business users are already taking advantage of applications other than email. However, despite RIM’s attempts to take the BlackBerry out of the boardroom, the most popular services outlined by the company are still business applications.
In addition to providing BlackBerry users with a wide range of applications, RIM has also enhanced the multimedia capabilities on its smartphones. BlackBerry handsets now come with a two-megapixel camera and media player. The BlackBerry 8100, the Curve and the Pearl all have a Wi-Fi-enabled version as well as a version equipped with GPS.
A couple of operators have taken advantage of the GPS capability in the handsets, with T-Mobile and Vodafone offering navigation services for BlackBerry users.
Reaching the high-end consumer market also required new distribution channels for the smartphones. RIM signed a deal with Carphone Warehouse in July in an attempt to get closer to the consumer market. And to prove its commitment, RIM gave Carphone an exclusive of the BlackBerry Pearl 8120 in sunset red for the Christmas market.
A Pearl handset also featured on the cover of Carphone’s Buyers’ Guide earlier this year. This was the first time a smartphone had made it on the cover, showing the increasing demand for consumer-friendly smartphones.
Hart is tight-lipped on details of the impact the Carphone deal had on BlackBerry sales in the UK. He says sales have been positive, and that sales in the EMEA region are going at the rate of 20% quarter-on-quarter. According to market analyst Canalys, BlackBerry makes up 34% of the UK’s professional device shipments.
RIM recently changed its subscriber forecast for the quarter ending in March 2008, saying the figure was likely to be 15% to 20% higher than the original estimate of 1.82 million, bringing the total global BlackBerry subscriber base to 14 million.
And there is plenty of room for growth in the smartphone market. Only 2% of mobile users in western Europe use email on their mobile phones, according to Hart. ‘It’s a huge untapped market. Irrespective of our market share, there’s room for everybody.’
New partnerships are also central to RIM’s strategy. The company has recently signed an agreement with Phones 4u, allowing the retailer to sell BlackBerry handsets.
‘We recognise that we can do everything in the mobile ecosystem, so we work with partners. You’ll see a lot more of them coming out this year,’ Hart says. RIM will be announcing more deals, although Hart refused to disclose details.