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RIM taking iPhone competition to new level: Consumer vs. Enterprise

Despite the overtures in the media, I’ve never bought the argument that the iPhone and BlackBerry are in a fierce competition. At least not much more fierce than the competitions that exist throughout the handset market. The media always made this out to be something bigger than it really is. However, with some new developments on the not-so-distant horizon for RIM and Apple, the competition might be coming to life.

Consumer vs. Enterprise

It’s easy to make this simple delineation between the iPhone and BlackBerry. The iPhone is suited for consumers, and BlackBerry is suited for enterprise. And in the most general terms, you’d be right. Consumers flocked to the iPhone last June, buying up millions of the devices to date. And enterprises routinely employ BlackBerry solutions for their mobile employees.

But that’s not to say that the demographics don’t bleed. Last year, RIM introduced the BlackBerry Curve, a device somewhat similar to their 8800 series, but with a consumer tilt. The device is a bit smaller, so it’s easier to hold. And it contains a camera, a feature notably absent from most prior versions of the BlackBerry. They also have the BlackBerry Pearl, a candybar phone with a half-QWERTY keyboard.

On the other side, Apple has made an enterprise play. It supports Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, making it an option for corporations to use for their mobile workforce. True, there are still security questions surrounding the device — ask any IT person about that — but the inert sexiness of the device will have appeal to smaller firms, probably of the more creative ilk (e.g., marketing firms).

RIM moving towards the consumer

As we’ve seen recently with Research In Motion, they’re moving towards a hybrid consumer/enterprise device with the BlackBerry Bold. Unlike the bulk of their past releases, this includes an built-in camera. It also features a new multimedia player intended to expand the BlackBerry’s use as an all-in-one device. The gigabyte of on-board memory helps serve this purpose.

That is not RIM’s biggest advancement towards the consumer market, though. And this new — still rumored — play has huge implications. The BlackBerry Thunder rumor broke during RIM’s annual WES convention. While it remains just a rumor, it is certainly a heavy one. The spin of this BlackBerry device: It’s a full touchscreen device, eerily similar in nature to the iPhone.

Only mock-ups exist at this time, but from all descriptions the device figures to have dimensions similar to the iPhone, with the addition of four physical buttons: send, end, back, and menu. But that’s not the genius of the device. Rather, it’s the marketing that will help the Thunder rise to glory.

It will be available as a lifetime exclusive with Verizon and Vodafone. In America, this means that not only will the Thunder and the iPhone go head to head in terms of the devices themselves, but also their carriers. AT&T and Verizon are the Nos. 1 and 2 carriers in the U.S., respectively. It will also be a hybrid CDMA/GSM, making it suitable for world travel.

Oh yeah, there’s a new iPhone, too

Apple isn’t just sitting on its hands, though. We know a 3G iPhone is coming, and it is heavily rumored to be released on right around the iPhone’s one-year anniversary. Apple, as is their M.O., has kept mum about the phone.

Right off the bat, Apple has an advantage. Their device will come a few months before the Thunder, and will likely be released before an official Thunder announcement is made by RIM.

It will be interesting to watch how each device fares. Will the rumor of the Thunder prevent people from switching over to AT&T for the iPhone? Is that the reason we saw the Thunder rumor leaked in the first place? Both good questions, I think. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a number of months before we start getting some answers.