Friday, August 27, 2010
Tests of Tablet and New BlackBerry rival iPhone
Research In Motion Ltd. is readying a slate of new devices and software as it looks to keep its BlackBerry smartphone from losing more ground to touch-screen devices like Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPad.
RIM is testing a touch-screen smartphone with a slide-out keyboard, according to people familiar with the device. The phone runs on a new version of the BlackBerry operating system and works much like an iPhone, letting users swipe through screens and expand images with their fingers, these people say. It also has a universal search bar that lets users scour all the phone's data and some data online as well, these people say.
RIM is also experimenting with a tablet device to serve as a larger-screen companion to its BlackBerry phone, say people familiar with RIM's plans. That device, which is in an early stage of development, will connect to cellular networks via a BlackBerry phone, these people say. It could come out as soon as the end of the year, these people say.
A RIM spokeswoman said the company doesn't comment on rumors and speculation. RIM executives have said they will ship a phone running a new operating system and a new Web browser in the quarter ending Sept. 30, but haven't provided details of the device. They haven't discussed plans for a tablet.
The new offerings come as the Waterloo, Ontario, company, which has long led the U.S. market for smart-phones, faces increased competition from devices built by Apple and those that run on the Android operating system from Google Inc. On June 24, Apple will release the latest version of its smartphone, the iPhone 4.
RIM still sells more smartphones globally than any company besides Nokia Corp., and last year grabbed 19% of the world market for the do-everything devices, according to the research firm Strategy Analytics.
But its share of the key North American market is slipping, as RIM has been slow to match Apple and Android's touch-screen technology, smooth Internet-browsing capability and add-on software. RIM has just one phone line with a touch screen, the BlackBerry Storm.
The iPhone's mountain of applications, or apps, and slick user experience in particular are enticing new consumers. RIM's share of the North American smartphone market by shipments dropped to 38% in the March quarter from 54% in the year-ago quarter. Apple's share has climbed from 18% to 23% in that same period.
Apple boasts 225,000 applications on its apps store. RIM, by contrast has around 7,000 apps, and users complain its BlackBerry interface is clunky and hard to use by comparison.
Most of the iPhone apps also work on Apple's iPad tablet device, which has sold more than 2 million units during the 2-1/2 months it's been on the market—bolstering Apple's strength in mobile computing.
RIM's upcoming smartphone and operating system—dubbed BlackBerry OS 6.0—is aimed at addressing many of the complaints critics have leveled at the company's devices. RIM executives unveiled the software at an investor conference in April.
Users can put icons for the apps they use most frequently on the new device's home screen, and scroll down that screen with a swipe of the finger, say people familiar with RIM's new phone and operating system.
Users can also swipe sideways to access separate screens with other collections of features and apps. One screen could have a collection of games; another could have a group of messaging applications, these people said.
The home screen also contains a search bar that allows users to look up everything on the device—from contacts and calendar data to songs—that relates to the name or keyword they type in. The search may also be able to locate occurrences of the keyword on sites like Facebook or Twitter, some people familiar with the device said.
The new device will have a Qwerty keyboard that slides out from the bottom of the touch screen. Users can also type on a virtual keyboard in landscape mode, which requires the device to be turned on its side, people familiar with the device said.
The device comes with four gigabytes of storage space and a five megapixel camera, these people say.
RIM is also readying a new Internet browser that renders Web pages much faster than the current browser, and allows users to access more than one Web page at a time, people familiar with the device said.
—Sara Silver and Ting-I Tsai contributed to this article.
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