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RIM lights the way with Torch Add to ...

After more than a year of development and countless hours of testing, RIM has unveiled what company executives describe as the best BlackBerry ever. Now comes the hard part.

The Waterloo, Ont. smart phone maker launched its newest device, the touch-screen BlackBerry Torch, at a slick media event in New York City. But the early reviews from technology experts and investors were underwhelming, and RIM shares, which had been rising in anticipation of the new product, fell more than 5 per cent from their intraday high after the company took the wraps off the Torch.

The phone is RIM's most aggressive entry yet into the consumer smart phone market, which analysts believe is critical to the company's future growth. With improved Web browsing, greater emphasis on multimedia applications and a slide-out keyboard, the Torch is also a less-than-subtle jab at the iPhone, the flagship product of Apple Inc., which has sold more than 50 million smart phones since 2007.

For RIM, Tuesday's event served a dual purpose - to launch its new product but also to take some of the focus off an increasingly public dispute with several foreign governments over the BlackBerry's security features.

Following a week that saw authorities in the United Arab Emirates and India threaten to shut down some BlackBerry services because strong encryption made it difficult for security agents to monitor messages sent over its network, authorities in Saudi Arabia said they would also order telecom companies in the kingdom to block an unspecified service for all BlackBerry users, starting Friday.

News reports in India suggested RIM has agreed to give the government greater access to BlackBerry message traffic. But the company shot back on Tuesday, issuing a statement that said: "There is only one BlackBerry enterprise solution available to our customers around the world and it remains unchanged in all of the markets we operate in. … RIM co-operates with all governments with a consistent standard and the same degree of respect." the company said.

The statement represents RIM's most direct denial of claims that the company assists governments in monitoring BlackBerry users.

The security features of the BlackBerry are a key selling point for government and business customers, a market that RIM dominates, but that isn't growing as quickly as the consumer market. To truly compete with the iPhone - and ensure RIM's meteoric growth over the past decade doesn't come to an end - it must now convince legions of developers of mobile software applications, or apps, to create a new set of programs for its brand new phone.

While the newest iterations of the iPhone require app developers to make few changes to their software, the Torch is a significant departure for RIM.

Not only is it the first BlackBerry to run on the company's new operating system, it also comes with a touch-screen - a rarity for RIM - and a new type of Web browser designed to answer critics who complained that previous browsers were cumbersome and poorly designed.

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All this means that app developers - whose products are vital to luring consumers - will likely have to make significant changes to their applications in order to make full use of RIM's new flagship BlackBerry.

"The key question is whether RIM can convince developers to prioritize this new platform above the competition," Forrester analyst Charles Golvin said.

"RIM has a strong appeal for developers because of the size of their installed base. With a new platform that base is reset to zero, so developers will apply different criteria to their decision on prioritizing BlackBerry versus iPhone [and phones powered by Google's Android operating system] … This is the huge challenge for RIM."

RIM co-chief executive officer Mike Lazaridis joined executives from AT&T at the launch event yesterday. The Torch launches first in the United States exclusively with AT&T on Aug. 12 for $200 (U.S.) with a two-year contract.

Analysts responded generally favourably to RIM's new product yesterday. UBS analyst Phillip Huang said the new operating system and phone go a long way toward helping RIM catch up with the competition, but "in our opinion, RIM still needs to improve its ecosystem [of apps]"


All three large Canadian wireless companies have confirmed to The Globe and Mail they will be offering the Torch, but have not disclosed a Canadian launch date or pricing details.

Rogers and Telus said they will offer the Torch "later this year." Bell said it will offer the phone in the fall.

Smart phone specs

RIM's new BlackBerry Torch

RIM BlackBerry Torch 9800

Display: 3.2-inch, 480 x 360 resolution

Camera: 5 mega pixel camera with flash, 2 times digital zoom, continuous auto focus, image stabilization, VGA 640 x 480 video recording

Keyboard: Slide-out QWERTY keyboard, on-screen keyboard

Battery: 18 days (432 hours) standby, 5.5 hours talk, 30 hours music playback, 6 hours video playback.

Capacity: 4 GB (expandable to 32 GB)

Weight: 5.68 ounces

OS: BlackBerry 6 OS

App Catalogue: More than 5,000

Price: Not Available

Apple's iPhone 4

Apple iPhone 4

Display: 960 x 640 resolution, 3.5-inch (diagonal) retina display, 326 pixels per inch; in-plane switching provides widest possible viewing experience

Camera: Front and rear-facing, 5 megapixels, 5x digital zoom, built-in LED flash, HD 720p video, edit on device

Keyboard: Touch screen, intelligent keyboard that tracks what you type, suggests words, spelling and inserts punctuation

Battery: 300 hours standby, 7 hours talk, 6 hours Internet 3G, 10 hours Internet wi-fi, 40 hours music playback, 10 hours video playback.

Capacity: 16 GB, 32 GB

Weight: 4.8 ounces

OS: iOS 4.0.1

App Catalogue: More than 200,000

Price: $659/$779 unlocked; $159.95/$269.95 with 3-year contract (Bell); $159/$269 with 3-year contract (Rogers)

HTC Legend

HTC Legend

Display: 3.2-inch, 480 x 320, LCD touch screen

Camera: 5 mega pixels, auto focus, LED flash

Keyboard: Touch screen

Battery: 560 hours standby, 6 hours talk, music and video N/A

Capacity: 8 GB (expandable to 32 GB)

Weight: 4.44 ounces

OS: Android 2.1 OS

App Catalogue: More than 100,000

Price: $80 with 3-year contract, $350 without (Virgin Mobile); $80 with 3-year contract, $400 without (Bell Mobility)

Review the live blog of Tuesday's launch below:

<iframe src="http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=11eeb5d3a9/height=650/width=600" scrolling="no" height="650px" width="600px" frameBorder="0" allowTransparency="true" ><a href="http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=11eeb5d3a9" >RIM launch event</a></iframe>

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