RIM takes battle to iPhone 4 with new Blackberry

By Frank Michael Russell
San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. – BlackBerry maker Research In Motion – aiming to stay ahead of manufacturers of rival devices such as Apple’s iPhone – on Tuesday unveiled its new BlackBerry 6.0 software and Torch smart phone.

The software includes features such as a new touch screen and track-pad interface. RIM, though, described the operating system as easy to use for BlackBerry loyalists – who often depend on the keyboard for quick e-mails to colleagues.

“BlackBerry 6 is the outcome of RIM’s ongoing passion to deliver a powerful, simplified and optimized user experience for both touch-screen and keyboard fans,” co-CEO Mike Lazaridis said in a statement Tuesday morning.

The Waterloo, Ontario, company and wireless carrier AT&T on Tuesday also announced the new BlackBerry Torch 9800 smart phone, the first device to run the new operating system.

AT&T and RIM are marketing the Torch 9800 to workers who want to stay in touch with the office – and with their friends on social-networking sites. In what AT&T mobility and consumer CEO Ralph de la Vega described as “a true generational shift in hardware and operating system,” the Torch includes both a full 3.2-inch touch-screen display and slide-out keyboard.

A report Monday from Nielsen showed the BlackBerry remains the most popular smart-phone platform – but Google’s Android operating system is rapidly gaining subscribers and Apple’s iPhone is the “most desired” choice for customers’ next smart phone purchase.

In a note to clients Monday, Gleacher & Co. analyst Mark McKechnie said he expects the new phone will be “a ‘hit’ with die-hard AT&T Blackberry users.”

As for the new software, “We look to Blackberry 6.0 as a catalyst to retain or grow the percentage of subscribers who remain loyal to the platform,” McKechnie said.

AT&T will offer the Torch 9800 starting Aug. 12 for $199.99 to eligible customers who agree to a new two-year contract. In addition to monthly fees for voice service, the carrier will charge $15 a month for a plan with 200 megabytes of wireless data or $25 for 2GB.