Way back last spring, when I still worked at PC World, we received a visit from RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis. He showed us the company’s next-generation smartphone, the BlackBerry Bold. And I got really excited. The Bold had one of the best screens I’d ever seen–one which, in terms of dpi, offered far more resolution for its size than the iPhone display. It had an updated user interface, media apps, and a new browser. It was the first 3G GSM BlackBerry. The keyboard looked excellent. In terms of aesthetics, it was a stylin’ little gadget (except, maybe, for its “leatherette” backside).
All in all, it looked terrific–I thought it probably was the second most interesting smartphone of the year after the second-generation iPhone (whose name we didn’t know yet). And for folks who like little plastic keys, it looked like the most interesting phone. I looked forward to AT&T rolling it out–and at the time, it sounded like that would happen at roughly the same time that the new iPhone made its debut.
We’re now well into autumn, and the AT&T Bold is nowhere to be found. I’ve wondered where it was repeatedly (as I did in our T-Grid comparison of the BlackBerry Storm and the iPhone 3G) and asked AT&T to pick up the pace. More and more, the “coming soon” page at AT&T’s site felt like a taunt rather than a promise: It now looks entirely possible that Verizon will get the Storm out before the Bold is available in the U.S., and the Bold’s time as the coolest BlackBerry will have come and gone before we Americans ever had a chance to buy one.
Even so, maybe AT&T has been wise in not rushing out the Bold: The Boy Genius Report is reporting that UK wireless carrier Orange has suspended sales of the Bold due to unspecified problems with its software. As far as I know, AT&T has never spoken publicly to why it’s taking so long for it to roll out the phone, but it’s likely because it hasn’t felt comfortable that it’s ready for prime time. And perhaps its concerns relate to the same issues that Orange apparently discovered after it started selling people Bolds.
It’s easy to get impatient with wireless carriers–to say they move too slowly, are too restrictive in the devices they carry and the features they enable, and are just too damn cautious in general. But wireless is complicated stuff, and there’s a logic to carrier conservatism. And this is a reminder of exactly that.
Meanwhile, I hope that RIM irons out the Bold’s bugs quickly. It too has historically been a conservative company, one whose current product line is in some ways remarkably similar to its 1997 lineup. But its strategy moving foward seems to be to let a thousand BlackBerries blossom, with not only the Bold but the innovative touchscreen Storm, the first BlackBerry flip phone, and other BlackBerry flavors. (Boy Genius has another post that discusses other BlackBerry models supposedly in the works–the Storm isn’t out yet, and it’s already reporting on the Storm 2 and the Storm 3.)
With the rise of the iPhone, there’s certainly a worst-case scenario for RIM in which the BlackBerry starts to fade away, or at least struggles to remain relevant. (Call it the Palm problem.) I don’t think it has to be that way. And the apparent RIM strategy–although I’m not sure if they’ve articulated it–of responding to Apple’s one-iPhone-fits-all approach with different BlackBerries for different folks is a rational one. Maybe even the smartest possible one.
But I do worry a little about RIM cranking out a profusion of significantly different BlackBerries and making ‘em all robust. For now, though, I’m willing to assume that the issues with the Bold are a hiccup, not a sign of things to come…