Torch Song

Research In Motion’s BlackBerry line is “boardroom” while Android devices and iPhones are… well, maybe not “bedroom,” but sexier nonetheless. RIM, once king of smartphones, has struggled to achieve the Q-factor of its Apple and Google rivals. Now, the company hopes to please its traditional base of professionals and its growing base of consumer fans, especially text-happy teens, with the upcoming BlackBerry Torch, which combines a touchscreen with its trademark QWERTY keyboard.

On one hand, I think that the BlackBerry’s continued strength, coupled with the new phone that comes out August 12 on AT&T, ensures that the number of RIM consumers will make it worthwhile for mobile marketers to keep targeting them with BlackBerry apps and the use of BlackBerry marketing best practices. On the other, it’s hard not to look at first images and specs and think “last year’s Motorola Droid” or “the sadly-failed Palm Pre.”

But RIM customers are an important niche. Since big corporations have long used the BlackBerry (with its secure email, an important differentiator), and since such companies are notoriously slow to change, the Torch may be the device to please both the staid enterprise decision-makers as well as the prosumers who desire a phone with capabilities like social networking, a full web browser, and multiple home screens. Remember that recent IDC report, which found that corporate employees would rather buy their own smartphones to use for work than make do with sub-par handset provided by the company.

Will the Torch, which also boasts improved music/audio and photo-management experiences, entice the youth market that adored the candybar-style Pearl? I doubt it. And RIM’s third-party app development process is far behind Android’s and Apple’s. But thanks to the Torch, BlackBerry will continue to be an indispensable platform for marketers who want reach the corporate user and prosumer markets. It just may not win the love of everyone else.