RIM, BlackBerry OS Out of Touch with Touchscreen Trend

There may seem to be a lot of iPhones out there in enterprise land, but the truth is you ain't seen nothing yet: organizations large and small are about to be overrun by touchscreen mobile devices from a whole gamut of manufacturers.

There'll be plenty of Apple iPhones, certainly, but there'll also be Android handsets and ones based on Microsoft's awkwardly named Windows Phone 7 Series mobile OS too. But unless Research in Motion pulls its finger out pretty quickly to tap into the mobile device touchscreen trend, the days of "Crackberry" ubiquity could be over sooner than later. Here's why.

Hot Trend: Touchscreen Mobile Device

According to research firm Gartner Group, touchscreen mobile device sales will almost double in 2010 to account for over 27 percent of all mobile phone sales, and in three years time they'll account for more than 80 percent. Add to that Gartner's forecast of mobile app downloads surpassing 4.5 billion, worldwide, this year, and you have quite a hot market.

The touchscreen mobile device sector is a market that Apple has defined and dominated since the launch of the iPhone back in 2007, and to be quite honest, it's a market that Apple's pretty much had to itself since then. So-called "iPhone killers" have come and gone (remember the Blackberry Storm anyone?), but two and a half years later, the iPhone is still the undisputed king of the hill. But now things seem to be changing.

First, there's a growing disenchantment among developers with the iPhone, and the near-psychotic control that Apple exerts over the platform. Apps disappear from the App Store overnight, updates take months to be approved and potentially useful enterprise apps such as Google Voice are sometimes bogged down in controversy.

Many iPhone app developers are looking around for another mobile platform on which to work. And when you see the arbitrary rules that Apple invents to justify banning apps that over the past months have contributed to the iPhone's success, who can blame them? While you may not mourn the disappearance of an app like Wobble iBoobs (which does exactly what you'd think,) how can you trust Apple not to unilaterally rule that another app that's vital for your business should not "disappear" overnight at some point in the near future?

Android OS, Android Apps Policies Awesome, But Fragmentation Looms

One obvious destination for disgruntled iPhone devs is Google's Android platform. Android is in many ways the anti-iPhone OS: it's free and open to all device manufacturers, with whatever extensions or modifications they care to bolt on, and it runs on all kinds of hardware. So far, the Droid smartphone launch has been successful and is boosting awareness of the OS in the market. Most importantly, the user gets to choose what apps it can run, not Apple, and the Android app market is easier for developers to navigate.

But these strengths could also hurt the nascent mobile OS in the long run, as Michael Gartenberg points out over at Engadget. He argues that the Android platform could be in serious danger of fragmenting, with too many different hardware specifications, screen resolutions, OS versions and extensions making it impossible to write an Android app that will work on more than one Android handset. "Either Google addresses the fragmentation issue immediately or it will find that Android suffers the same fate as Linux on the desktop," Gartenberg concludes, darkly.

So, Apple's shine is fading, and Android is not the perfect alternative. That means there's a huge opportunity for every other smartphone OS maker to grab a share of this lucrative market that Gartner expects to double this year.

Will Microsoft Mobile Make Strides with Windows Phone 7 Series?

Enter Microsoft. After the horror of Windows Mobile 6.5 -- an example of an all-fur-coat-and-no-knickers operating system if ever there was one -- Windows Phone 7 Series suggests that Microsoft has finally "got it." It's a new OS that's been designed from the ground up for a touchscreen interface and the world of apps -- not one that consists of a touchscreen interface lashed on to a shrunken version of a desktop OS -- and it leverages Microsoft's experience with the Zune interface and Xbox Live as well.

It's too soon to tell if Windows Phone 7 Series will deliver on the details when it finally shows up on hardware that hits the market, but from what we've seen so far, it could be a watershed moment for Microsoft. It may be that the touchscreen handsets it powers turn out to be desirable items that enterprise users clamor for, rather than unloved enterprise workhorses with ridiculously sluggish stylus-driven interfaces, like previous Microsoft offerings. Of course we shouldn't forget that it's Microsoft we're dealing with here, which means success is by no means guaranteed. The company has a habit of making fine devices -- such as the Zune -- that interest no one or over-promising and under-delivering as it did with Windows Mobile 6.5.

Nokia is another company that has the potential to seize the moment. Its smartphone market share may be tanking, and its Symbian operating system may be dated, unattractive, and frankly, hard to use, but the company knows this. It has also come to the unpleasant realization that Maemo, the Linux-based mobile OS that Nokia has been developing these last few years, isn't the answer.

That's why the company teamed up with Intel and its Moblin distro, hoping that by combining Maemo and Moblin into MeeGo, it will have a platform that attracts more interest from developers (and therefore users) than the failed Maemo project could alone. Will it work? MeeGo hasn't captured the limelight in the way that Android has, but Nokia does have more experience in the mobile phone space than Google. It would be foolish to write Nokia off just yet.

Latest Palm Handhelds Too Late? RIM, BlackBerry OS Fading?

Who else could become a significant player in the touchscreen smartphone space, then? Palm with its webOS? Many people have a soft spot for Palm, and by all accounts everyone who tries webOS seems to like it. The problem is that hardly anyone seems to be trying it -- Palm Pre and Pixi sales are sluggish. If Nokia decided that it wasn't big enough to go it alone with Maemo, then what chance does webOS have?

And that leaves Research in Motion. Its BlackBerry devices have historically been hugely popular in the enterprise market, yet despite the introduction of the touchscreen Storm 2, it appears that RIM still doesn't quite "get" how profoundly the smartphone world has changed since the iPhone was launched.

What RIM needs is a completely new touchscreen OS, built from the ground up like iPhone OS, Android, MeeGo, Windows Phone 7 Series, or even WebOS, and a vast inventory of BlackBerry apps to run on it. But so far there's no sign of either. And that means that while these other mobile OSes battle for dominance, the mighty BlackBerry could quickly tumble from its perch as the No. 1 mobile device for the enterprise.

TAGS:

Blackberry, RIM, mobile device, BlackBerry OS, BlackBerry Apps

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