CTIA: Blackberry Pearl Opens Up New Markets For RIM

Down here at the CTIA show, I moderated a panel on mobile messaging. One of the themes to emerge from our discussion was mobile email's impending attack on the consumer market. After years of Blackberries in the boardrooms, the capabilities of consumer-grade phones are finally arriving at a place where they can offer compelling mobile email user experiences, and vendors are lining up to attack this market. Why? Because the estimate is that, with 1.2 Billion active email addresses in the world, mobile email has so far only tapped 1% of its potential market. The mass market of consumers and sub-executive professionals is just waiting for the right solution. Thus, my panel had interesting opinions from companies like Seven, which aim to provide solutions that carriers can re-sell for substantially lower prices than Blackberry. Meanwhile, RIM launched their latest handset, the Pearl. I had the opportunity to try out the Pearl, which is named after the trackball located in the center just below the screen. The trackball is a great input device, and allows one to move easily about the UI. I liked the functionality of the device, and the intuitive interface. The phone is narrow and small, like most other consumer cell phones, and has a compacted QWERTY keyboard that uses predictive text. Although the keyboard worked very well, I found the keys noticeably cheaper in their feel than typical Blackberries. Of course, that's to be expected, the phone is priced at $200 through T-Mobile - much cheaper than previous Blackberries. But $200 might still be too high to capture the mass market, even for a nice device like this. My CTIA panel put forward that, when it comes to mobile email, the market is spread across a spectrum, where some customers are willing to pay $40/mo and others will pay just a few bucks. Those at the top of the spectrum want Triple DES encryption, dedicated devices, fast networks, push, etc. While those at the bottom are willing to triple-tap on smaller screens, and sacrifice service for dollars. But we all agreed that demand for mobile email is almost universal (with up to 2 Billion global cell subscribers!), and any company that carves out a slice of that spectrum will see growing sales. It looks to me like RIM's Pearl will do just that: carve out a segment somewhere between the boardroom and the Hotmail crowds.

E-mail is one of a handful of apps that has ever undeniably earned the prefix "killer". Taking email mobile is a logical progression, and has already proven to be of high value to millions of paying customers. There is every reason to believe a lot of companies will benefit from the growth of this sector into consumer segments.


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