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A slippery slope for RIM and the BlackBerry?

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The news that RIM is launching a consumer/prosumer device called the "Pearl" (aka BlackBerry 8100) has got me all mixed up.

As an industry analyst, I can see the logic of what our Canadian friends are doing – releasing a device that is more likely to appeal to the masses than the BlackBerry QUERTY classic and RIM's first attempt at the “candy stick” form factor, the 7100 series.

As a hard core BlackBerry user myself, though, I also feel betrayed and that my loyalty has been abused. Sexy they are certainly not, but the great thing you could say about the BlackBerry family – to this point at least – is that all of the models put the focus on simple, effective, uncluttered utility. As mobile email devices, BlackBerries have traditionally always done what they said on the tin, with no distracting and superfluous frills.

And now, it pains me to say that RIM's latest baby includes a ...CAMERA!!!

Not quite as distressing, but still a bit uncomfortable is the disappearance of the trusty thumb wheel, which is actually one of biggest reasons I have stuck with the BlackBerry myself over the years (apart from battery life, indestructibility, security, recoverability and simplicity, of course). An alternative track-ball thingy, that looks a bit like a pearl (hence the name) is how the 8100 is navigated.

RIM assures its loyal followers in the business sector that it will not take its eye off delivering mobile devices for grown ups, but with the call of the mass market and so many people gunning for RIM in its enterprise heartland, could this push RIM down the slippery slope into the land of the Finnish giant where gimmicks and fashion rule? How long before we see the iBerry music device with “push music” functionality?

On a serious industry note, RIM is undoubtedly hoping that it can persuade its mobile operator clients to renew their efforts with BlackBerry in the retail channel, but here, like in the enterprise space, the competitors are already active – not least, the operators themselves with own branded push email services back ended by companies like Visto.

Meanwhile, I’m hanging onto my old fashioned BlackBerry, no matter how much abuse I get for lack of street credibility when I visit all the RAZR toting media types down at Vulture Central.

Anyway, do you agree with my concerns about RIM? Think I’m mad?

If this latest development or anything I have said moves you in any way whatsoever – or if you have any general thoughts on the area of mobile email, click on over to the debate we have running on the topic here

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