Research In Motion has rolled out an updated version of its top-end BlackBerry Bold, aiming to reassert its dominance in the professional market at a time when its retail consumer business has come under growing pressure from Apple's iPhone.
The latest Bold, part of a series of new devices that Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM plans to bring to market in the next 12 months, is designed for business executives, lawyers, politicians and other professionals, a market that the company still rules.
But in the broader consumer market, RIM has seen stiff competition from Apple's iPhone and handsets from rivals such as Nokia.
The new Bold is thinner and lighter than its predecessor, which hit the market last year, and replaces the original Bold's track ball with an optical track pad. The new model also features a faster Web browser.
The Bold's new features are aimed at defending the business market from the Apple threat, and also at attracting wealthier retail users.
RIM still isn't in a position where it has any one device that can be considered an iPhone killer, said independent technology analyst Carmi Levy.
Apple is in a position of power in this market and you are either aware of their strategy and you counter it in some way, or you find another business to be in.
Apple reported on Monday it sold 7.4 million iPhones in its last quarter and it posted earnings that handily beat Wall Street forecasts, pushing its stock to record highs.
RIM, meanwhile, has stumbled. Late last month, it reported results and an outlook that disappointed investors and sent its shares tumbling more than 15 percent.
APPS AND SECURITY
RIM's main counter to the iPhone is the BlackBerry Storm, a well-selling touchscreen smartphone similar to Apple's device.
RIM unveiled a new version of the Storm last week, and it has to continue to wow retail users with sleek, fashionable handsets if it is to succeed against Apple.
Software is equally important, said Research Capital analyst Nick Agostino.
From games to calendars and from horoscopes to news summaries, applications are playing an increasingly important role in attracting users. Indeed, the success of Apple's application store prompted RIM to open its own in April.
As apps continue to get more sophisticated, RIM could find an advantage in its reputation for providing what some view as unmatched security on its smartphones, Agostino said.
Security is now a major issue mostly for corporations and governments, which sometimes store or view sensitive data and documents on the BlackBerry.
But as new applications for mobile payments or even personal ID such as passports make their way onto the BlackBerry, security could become a mainstream issue, he said.
That's where RIM can carve out its presence within the consumer market, Agostino said.
NEW BOLD NOT CHEAP
AT&T and T-Mobile will be among the first wireless carriers around the world to offer the new Bold in coming weeks.
We think it's a major upgrade that appeals to professionals and to consumers, both men and women, RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie said in an interview.
It almost certainly won't be cheap, considering the price of the original. Today, the first Bold still sells for C$249.99 ($238) on a three-year contract with Rogers Communications, Canada's biggest wireless carrier.
Without a contract, Rogers offers it for C$649.99.
Price, Balsillie said, needs to be taken in context of everything the smartphone is capable of doing for the user.
Is it high end, or is it a super-cheap plasma TV on your belt that's also a phone, a game machine, an MP3 player, a camera, Internet terminal, et cetera, et cetera? he asked.
RIM shares were down 33 cents to $66.27 on the Nasdaq market on Wednesday at midday.
(Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Peter Galloway)