The latest BlackBerry smart phone hit the market to little fan fare on Thursday -- there were no reports of long lines outside AT&T stores or Twitter complaints about jammed up online orders. As this iPhone-toting reporter fiddled and futzed with the new BlackBerry Torch and perused its early ads, I couldn't help but ask: How would I sell this thing?
Ads have proved somewhat of a bellwether in the smartphone category to date. Apple launched the iPhone with ads from TBWA Media Arts Lab, which showed off its apps and how they work. Fast forward a few years and iPhone is the app leader with 225,000 in its App Store vs. 70,000 in the Android Market and only 9,000 in BlackBerry's App World. McGarryBowen's brand ads for Droid, Verizon Wireless' Android phones, have featured robotic arms and sci-fi expeditions. No surprise, early numbers found Android users to be primarily young and male. Then there's Google's Nexus One that launched without advertising. It's since been discontinued.
So far, the ads for the BlackBerry Torch from AT&T ad agency BBDO are Canadian marketer Research in Motion's tourniquet to stem its slow bleed in smartphone market share. The company has long held the U.S. smartphone leadership position, but in recent quarters has lost percentage points, most notably, to Android. With better web browsing and a touch screen, Torch could stand to entice the 29% of Blackberry users that want their next phone to be an iPhone or the 21% looking to Android, according to second-quarter Nielsen data.
To that end, early ads have a sharp focus on Blackberry users. The first TV spot shows off Torch's touch screen, web browsing that's closer to what's available on competitors' phones, and social-media streams. It closes with a shot of the familiar BlackBerry keyboard. A full-page newspaper print ad in the New York Times and USA Today touts: "Introducing everything you want" next to the phone's touch screen and "With the one thing you need" beside its pull-out keyboard. The second TV ad, which debuted Thursday night, is by far the most explicit: It finds business people with Torch phones going through their routines where fixtures like the subway, elevator or plane have transformed into roller coasters or other amusement-park rides.
While this is only phase one in Torch marketing, this initial focus on BlackBerry's core business user is smart, especially because it has work to do to keep its already massive user base. But what would make this iPhone user switch? Here's how to -- and how not to -- sell me on the Torch.
The new iPhone-like features pale in comparison to the original. While critics say web browsing with the new BlackBerry operating system on Torch is a vast improvement, all I know is that the web on Torch is grainier, slower and not so smooth. This isn't the way to win over an iPhone user.
Neither, necessarily, is the keyboard. During a press event in New York last week announcing the new handset and its improved operating system, BlackBerry executives described the new handset as "fresh, but familiar." It features BlackBerry standbys like a track pad and keyboard, but both thoroughly confused me. Early attempts to update Facebook with the pull-out keyboard -- this is the first time RIM is pairing a touch screen and its signature keyboard -- were disastrous. It took two horribly misspelled, accidental posts to finally get out one full thought. As for the track pad, I thought it was a button for two full days. But, hey, those features aren't for me. Thankfully the phone let me in with touch screen navigation and the on-screen keyboard.
The biggest disappointment with Torch is apps. Apps have been key draw for iPhone and increasingly Android, so they were the first thing I looked for on this device, especially as the new operating system was built to entice developers to bring more apps to the now meager App World. It would help, through ads perhaps, to show me App World and how to access it.
Both iPhones and Android devices have a similar app grid home screen, so if you're looking for the store you find the store tile and tap. What's more, the iPhone ad deluge has taught even BlackBerry users, assuming they've ever watched TV in the last three years, the Apple way of finding apps. No such luck with Torch. The phone's new universal search box, which trolls everything from media to the internet to content on the phone, helped point me to where I can download a map app, though ads that show off the best apps would help build cred for BlackBerry in this category.
Most important, Torch needs to go for iPhone's Achilles heel: reception. While iPhone users have bemoaned the voice reception they get with the device on AT&T's network, the Torch doesn't seem to suffer from the same problems. During my few calls on Torch, I didn't drop a call, even where I experience service black holes with my iPhone -- ahem, my living room.
While hardly a scientific or thorough analysis, the BlackBerry Torch could entice users fed up with iPhone's dropped-calls issue. And for AT&T, the marketer behind Torch's launch ads, this phone could restore its good service name. That's not to say the same stands for wireless data: 3G for both Torch and iPhone shrivel up in the same spots, most notably my desk.