Blackberry's latest offers taste to regular consumers

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Crackberries for the masses?

The Blackberry obsession may be moving downmarket. The handheld email device has been a traditional chief executive favorite, but the company's newest smaller phone device, the Blackberry 7100, reaches out to the average business user and even consumers, say those familiar with the company's plans. Blackberry parent Research in Motion is particularly interested in the "prosumer" market which includes technically savvy but price-sensitive early adopters, as well as small business professionals and users who want a device that serves a dual work and personal use.

"The new 7100 opens them up to an audience of individuals instead of just companies," said IDC analyst Alex Slawsby. "They're still not at a point where they can truly get to the soccer moms and dads ... but what's attractive is widening Blackberry's appeal."

Blackberry is often jokingly referred to as "Crackberry" because its customers often admit to being "addicted" to the device. The company began its Blackberry marketing with the launch of the product in 1999 to a general business user audience; however, as top executives became hooked and passed on mandates for company-wide usage, the Blackberry became a more vertical or enterprise product.

ramping up

Now the company needs to ramp up its marketing efforts to reach back to that original prosumer business group, said analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group. "They don't have the broad breadth to establish a consumer product, and that will take a strong marketing effort," he said.

The task will not be easy. Blackberry has a strong corporate brand, but still needs to establish itself with consumers. And marketing a product to a group of high-level business execs as a serious business product and then offering the same item to teenagers and soccer moms is tricky. The business group will think the product isn't serious enough, and the others will think it's too serious.

"It's the same problem Microsoft has when it's trying to sell corporate products at the same time as consumer ones, like Windows XP. People then say `So is XP a business product or a consumer one?'" Mr. Enderle said. "

Besides brand, other issues that would need to be addressed include making the software and connections easy for consumers and lowering the price of the device. Another way RIM could sell to both groups would be to keep Blackberry for business customers and create a second branded product for consumers, suggested both Mr. Enderle and Mr. Slawsby.

Competition is building in the multi-faceted communicator market with rivals gaining momentum, like Palm, which owns the No. 1 selling Treo brand; Danger, whose device is sold as T-Mobile's Sidekick; and AT&T, with its new Ogo instant and e-mail messenger.

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