It’s pretty easy to peg the BlackBerry Torch 9800 as RIM’s return to form. And in many ways it is. That hearty touchscreen, the slide-out keyboard and the raft of smartphone skills under the hood mark it out as something pretty special. But it’s easy to forget that BlackBerry has never really gone away.
Yes, since the original Storm dropped, its phones haven’t been that exciting. And then there was the unseemly spectacle of RIM clearly getting its fingers burnt with its first touchscreen effort.
But the phone maker still kicks it at the top of the smartphone charts and is happily seeing off competition from Google and Apple thanks to a widening appeal, encompassing not only workaholics but also the kids who’ve fallen head over heels for BlackBerry Messenger. So why the excitement surrounding the Torch?
Well, there are myriad reasons. But perhaps most important of all is BlackBerry OS 6. As with Android and the iPhone, it’s the operating system that’s key.
The current version on BlackBerrys is, let’s face it, pretty staid. Ugly menu systems, nasty timers as you open apps and web pages and blocky renderings make for a pretty unsatisfactory experience all round. It might be powerful, but when it comes to being user-friendly, it can’t hold a candle to the delights of iOS 4 or HTC Sense.
OS 6 offers a whole new approach and, perhaps more than the Torch itself, can put BlackBerry on a more competitive level, helping it stretch out its lead over newer rivals. And, even more importantly, take on Symbian and Nokia.
The announcement of the Torch, and the imminent arrival of OS 6, is bound to add to Espoo’s woes. The N8 has been delayed and if the Torch can make it out ahead of the flagship Nokia device, then it’ll only compound the sense of doom being felt in Finland right now.
But beyond the OS, what else has the Torch got to give it the edge? Well, quirkiness, for a start. The portrait QWERTY slider is not a form factor well known beyond a few cheap phones (the ace Alcatel 980 included) but coupled with pinch-to-zoom touch functionality and the assured typing skills of a physical pad it’s going to be a winner. This has a wow factor which few touchscreen-only phones can match. In short, it’s a phone to show off down the pub to your pals.
Rather than a comeback, though, the Torch should be viewed as a consolidation. RIM’s recent success has been quiet and its devices have been pretty standard. But this will give it some much-needed publicity.
Its release timing is exquisite: far enough away from the iPhone 4 to grab the headlines, close enough to the Nokia N8 to ruffle a few feathers. Kudos to the Canadians, it appears the BlackBerry Torch 9800 has caused everyone to look at them in a new light. Here’s hoping that it’s not going to be a repeat of the original Storm and that the smartphone wars have got another genuine contender.