Facebook moved quickly to quash reports over the weekend that it was secretly building its own mobile phone to blunt the increasing power of the iPhone and Android platforms. But the fuss appears to be a largely semantic one. Facebook is clearly trying to weave the popular social network into the fabric of mobile society. And in doing so it appears headed straight into the ongoing battle for mobile supremacy currently raging among Apple, Google, RIM, Microsoft and others.
Attempting to refute the report on gadget website TechCrunch that Facebook is “building the software for the phone and working with a third party to actually build the hardware,” Facebook spokeswoman Jaime Schopflin told the Wall Street Journal's Digits blog that the company is simply working on "deep integration" intended "to make all phones and apps more social.”
Research in Motion's stranglehold on the enterprise with its Blackberry smartphones continues to loosen, as a pair of big money-center banks and the nation's largest mutual fund family are reportedly testing iPhone and Android devices as potential Blackberry replacements.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Switzerland's UBS AG are both considering letting employees use iPhones for access to corporate e-mail for the first time, according to Bloomberg. JPMorgan is testing both iPhones and smartphones based on Google's Android mobile OS, Bloomberg says, citing two people familiar with the bank's plans. JPMorgan is the nation's second-largest bank, with about 220,000 employees worldwide.
UBS AG, Switzerland's biggest bank with more than 63,000 employees, also told Bloomberg it is considering allowing its staff to use iPhones for company messaging, due the growing popularity of the smartphone among employees. And Vanguard Group Inc., the largest operator of stock and bond mutual funds in the US, is trying out the iPhone with 300 workers and may soon let employees companywide use the device, Joshua Grandy, a Vangaurd spokesman told Bloomberg.
These financial services giants are just the latest to explore alternatives to the BlackBerry. In May Standard Chartered Bank Plc announced it was migrating 15,000 employees from BlackBerry to the iPhone by year-end. The financial services seem to be at the forefront of the movement toward IT consumerization, which is widely seen as building momentum and threatens the dominance that RIM and BlackBerry enjoys in the enterprise.
As famous (or infamous?) former analyst Henry Blodget notes, Wall Street analysts are usually the last to warn of an impending train wreck -- since when they cut a stock rating to "sell," they both burn their relationship with the company and burn clients who own the company's stock. But last week several analysts threw in the towel and downgraded Research In Motion.
Largely due to reportedly lackluster sales of RIM's new BlackBerry Torch and its BlackBerry OS 6, some are comparing RIM's future to that of Palm's just a few years ago. They draw a parallel between the disappointing sales of the Palm Pre smartphone that accelerated the downward spiral that led to the fire-sale acquisition of Palm by HP, and RIM's current struggle to hold onto its smartphone leadership position in the face of competition from Apple's iPhone and the explosive growth of Google's Android mobile platform.
What numbers did Research In Motion need to reach in the first weekend that its next-generation touchscreen phone, the BlackBerry Torch 9800, was available? It's a good question, but the answer is not, apparently, 150,000 phones.
That sales estimate comes from analysts at RBC Capital Markets and Stifel Nicolaus, which were not wowed by the performance. Goldman Sachs called the launch "underwhelming," according to the Wall Street Journal. And while it's hardly a fair comparison -- given that RIM is counting on enterprises ordering the phone in bulk, which isn't likely to happen right out of the gate -- Apple sold 1.7 million iPhone 4s in its first three days. Verizon sold 300,000 Droid X phones, running through its stock in the first week.
AT&T will begin selling another Google Android-powered phone on Aug. 15, the Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 ($150 with a 2-year contract) to round out its smartphone lineup. But even with it's impressive specs -- 4-inch screen, 8 MP camera, 8 GB onboard storage, 1 GHz chip -- it will likely be a distant third in AT&T's smartphone line-up behind the hot-selling iPhone 4 and the new RIM BlackBerry Torch, which is based on the new Blackberry OS 6 and goes on sale Aug. 12 exclusively from AT&T.
It may not come as much of a surprise, but Research In Motion on Tuesday introduced its latest stab at an iPhone killer -- the BlackBerry Torch 9800.
The new slider phone, which features both a multi-touch screen and a QWERTY keyboard, is the first RIM device to run on the BlackBerry 6 operating system that the company hopes will keep it atop the smartphone game. It's too early to say definitively, but at worst it looks like RIM doesn't have another Storm debacle on its hands.