When Research In Motion rolled out the BlackBerry Torch 9800 in early August, co-CEO Mike Lazaridis called it one of the most significant launches in the company's history. Strong words -- and so far, weak results.
The Torch isn't turning many heads compared to the breakaway success of the iPhone 4 and competing Android-powered devices. The Wall Street Journal reports less-than-impressive sales of the Torch by AT&T, Wal-Mart, Best Buy and RadioShack. The device went on sale Aug. 12.
While Apple sold 1.7 million iPhone 4s in the first three days, RIM sold only about 150,000 Torch phones in its opening weekend. Even though no one expected the Torch to pace the iPhone 4, unit sales were less than spectacular for what was billed as one of the most significant phone launches in RIM's history.
A Grain of Salt
Amazon.com is taking a bold step to sell more Torch devices by slashing the price to $99. AT&T priced the Torch at $199.00 with a two-year service contract. Before the device even makes its international debut, Amazon has cut the price in half. But some analysts warn not to make too much of Amazon's strategy.
"Amazon often discounts even high-profile phones earlier than other retailers, and at much lower price points -- even to the point where it's below cost," said Michael Gartenberg, a partner at Altimeter Group. "So that's not unusual, and it's not particularly reflective of the Torch."
Amazon's price cut has spawned questions, though, considering that the cost to build the device is $183, according to iSuppli. But again, Gartenberg warns not to put too much stock in estimates.
"It's hard to pinpoint numbers. You don't know how accurate they are," Gartenberg said. "The component pricing seems a little high -- almost as high as the iPhone 4. That doesn't make much sense."
No iPhone Killer
Positioned to compete with Apple's iOS 4, the BlackBerry 6 operating system interface is a complete redesign, with expanded messaging capabilities and features that aim to make it easier for users to manage social networking and RSS feeds.
The platform offers integrated access to BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other instant-messaging apps. Of course, there's no iTunes, but the new platform offers a multimedia experience with YouTube and Podcasts apps.
Beyond the platform, a new WebKit-based browser renders HTML web pages and HTML e-mail more quickly than previous RIM devices. The new browser features tabs so users can access multiple sites at the same time. The touchscreen also makes possible pinch-to-zoom, and an auto-wrap text zoom feature wraps text in a column without compromising the placement of a page's key elements.
"It's too early to declare success or failure based on speculation and estimates," Gartenberg said. "At the end of the day, the Torch is not a device that's going to catapult RIM into the front of the pack and it doesn't keep up with the most cutting-edge devices. BlackBerry users are actually enamored by it. It is the best BlackBerry that's out there, and that may be good enough for BlackBerry users. RIM obviously needs to take this to the next level."