RIM Announces BlackBerry 7 Smartphones

Research in Motion (RIM) announced its first new smartphones based on the BlackBerry 7 OS release, and not the upcoming OS overhaul featuring the QNX system that powers its PlayBook tablet. Still, RIM claims the new product represents its biggest product launch ever, and the new devices are quite attractive and appear to have some interesting new functionality.

The five new handsets, which include two new BlackBerry Bold models and three new BlackBerry Torch models, will involve more than 225 wireless carriers around the world. The new handsets will all appear later this month, RIM says.

"BlackBerry offers a best-in-class mobile communications experience that customers love and we think they will be thrilled by the faster performance, enhanced browsing and richer multimedia delivered by these powerful new BlackBerry Bold and BlackBerry Torch smartphones," says Mike Lazaridis, RIM president and co-CEO.

Each of the phones is powered by BlackBerry 7 OS, which RIM says includes a dramatically improved WebKit-based browser. (WebKit is the browser-rendering engine used by Safari on the iPhone/iPad and in Google's Android-based browser.) BlackBerry 7 OS also includes a new version of BlackBerry Messenger, Social Feeds 2.0, Facebook for BlackBerry, Documents To Go Premium, native PDF reading functionality, and cloud data backup, among other changes.

Of course, the big news is the hardware, and though it's unlikely that the new devices will stem iPhone or Android sales at all, they could help energize RIM's still-rabid user base.

The BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9930 are aimed at BlackBerry purists and feature a traditional hardware keyboard and the thinnest (10.5mm) BlackBerry form factor ever offered.  They are also the first BlackBerry devices to offer support for Near Field Communications (NFC), a coming standard for wirelessly exchanging payments, executing transactions, and enabling other data exchanges between devices.

BlackBerry Bold 99xx

The BlackBerry Torch 9850 and 9860 handsets are RIM's new multi-touch devices, with large 3.7" screens at 800 x 480 resolution, 720p HD video capture capabilities, and new multimedia features. These devices are aimed at BlackBerry users who are interested in an iPhone-like experience and can part with the traditional BlackBerry hardware keyboard. These new devices appear to replace the BlackBerry Storm, which is apparently being phased out.

BlackBerry Torch 98xx

The BlackBerry Torch 9810 splits the difference between the Bold devices and the other Torch models, offering a reasonably large 3.2" screen and slide-out hardware keyboard. It's basically a faster version of the previous Torch model, the 9800, with all the advantages of BlackBerry 7 OS and both touch and keyboard interfaces.

BlackBerry Torch 9810

The question, of course, is whether these devices can halt RIM's slide, though the company did get a nice 5 percent share-price bump in the wake of the announcement. The company recently announced layoffs after a disappointing quarter in which it sold just 13.2 million devices. Apple sold more than 20 million iPhones in the same time period, and more than 9 million iPads.

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