BlackBerry Bold Shows RIM's Shrinking Niche

Tickers in this article: RIMM
An earlier version of this story erroneously referred to the BlackBerry 6 operating system.

VENICE, Italy ( MainStreet) -- Let's just say that BlackBerrys no longer hold the America's Cup for international business cellphones.

I am not sure what is the most telling clue to this: the troubles I have trying to take in cutting-edge racing yachts here at the America's Cup Village with a decidedly not-cutting-edge BlackBerry; throngs of international tourists doing the same with their really cool Apple(AAPL) iPhones, Samsung Notes or even iPads; or the row after row of cellphone stores here slinging anything but Research in Motion (RIMM) products.

Business features on the BlackBerry Bold remain excellent, but RIM devices are clearly losing ground to competitors.

But even I, a believer that tales of RIM's demise are greatly overstated, am beginning to feel BlackBerry Bold is like Venice itself: a lovely piece of ancient history.

RIM lovers need to know this: I have tried -- I mean really tried -- to find an upside for the troubled Canadian mobile device maker. My colleague schlepped over to Orlando, Fla., a couple of weeks back so we could cover BlackBerry World 2012 firsthand. Then, to be fair, we drove AT&T(T) and RIM crazy setting up a legit global roaming demo for a Bold I would bring here. Then to be extra fair, for a week, everybody in my little world had to deal with me doing every nutty thing possible with this device covering this stop in the America's Cup World Series yacht races, as well as filing tech stories and doing general company work.

The point was to get a real feel for one of RIM's supposed bright spots, its international business worthiness.

Now, this Bold most definitely works. Voice and data service provided by roaming agreements with Vodafone, Wind Mobile and TIM via AT&T was very impressive. But even with this productivity, there was just no shaking the cold certainty I was holding a device that was slowly sinking in the mobile technology lagoon.

Here's why:

Business features remain excellent, but even basic apps are clumsy.
No question, BlackBerrys still are the champ of basic business text, files and emails. The BlackBerry 7 Operating System offers the fastest, most versatile work environment for sending and receiving business SMS, editing documents and managing messages. But step beyond that iron business triangle -- and I mean just a little bit -- and the Bold's clunk factor becomes a business cellphone buzz kill. Simple things such as Facebook(FB) , now a critical business marketing tool, were terribly awkward. The camera, which is becoming an indispensable part of the office collaboration process, is simply awful. And any sort of browser-based Web search attempt resulted in me breaking out my PC.