Research In Motion on Tuesday introduced the BlackBerry Torch 9800 smartphone on the AT&T network. RIM is blending consumer and business features in the device, which has both a keyboard and a touchscreen.
The importance of Tuesday's launch to RIM should not be underestimated. In fact, Mike Lazaridis, RIM president and co-CEO, called it one of the most significant launches in RIM's history.
Part of what makes the Torch such a significant release is the new operating system. The BlackBerry 6 OS offers a familiar feel and many of the same features that made the BlackBerry popular, but also offers what RIM calls a fresh experience.
RIM vs Apple
The question is, will it be enough to ward off customer migration to Apple's iPhone? According to a report from Nielsen, BlackBerry has a loyalty rate of 42 percent, and 29 percent of BlackBerry owners are considering a move to Apple.
"We are going to end up seeing a fragmented market, somewhat based on what enterprises force," said Michael Disabato, managing vice president of network and telecom at Gartner. "If enterprises don't get the kind of management capabilities on the iPhone that they want, they will keep people on BlackBerrys, which are admittedly the gold standard."
A new operating system alone isn't enough to battle Apple and Android-based smartphones. On the consumer side, Disabato said RIM is going to have to play catch-up with Apple and Android to come up with some "neat touchscreens to make the devices look like an Apple and an Android" and stock applications that are equivalent to what's available for competing devices.
Diving into BlackBerry 6
Set to compete with Apple's iOS 4, the BlackBerry 6 platform interface is a complete redesign with expanded messaging capabilities and features that aim to make it easier for users to manage social networking and RSS feeds.
The platform offers integrated access to BlackBerry Messenger, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other instant-messaging apps. Of course, there's no iTunes, but the new platform works to offer a multimedia experience with a YouTube app and a Podcasts app.
Beyond the platform, a new WebKit-based browser renders HTML web pages and HTML e-mail more quickly than previous RIM devices. The new browser features tabs so users can access multiple sites at the same time. The touchscreen also makes possible pinch-to-zoom, and an auto-wrap text zoom feature wraps text in a column without compromising the placement of a page's key elements.
BlackBerry 6 also offers universal search from the home screen so users can find e-mail, messages, contacts, music, videos and other items stored on the device.
The BlackBerry Torch 9800 is exclusive to AT&T. The wireless carrier will begin selling the device on Aug. 12 for $199.99 with a two-year service agreement. The phone will also sell at Best Buy, Wal-Mart and RadioShack.