Could a touch-screen BlackBerry be in the offing?

Is there ever going to be a touch-screen BlackBerry 9000 from Research In Motion?

Is there ever going to be a touch-screen BlackBerry 9000 from Research In Motion?

The question was raised again this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, where RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie suggested that it could happen. "For sure, we're looking at all kinds of different device packaging and presentation," Balsillie told Reuters. I think getting religious on package is not the way to go," Balsillie continued. "It's really user preference-oriented."

RIM would not add further details about such a device despite several calls and e-mails over the past two days.

RIM, which makes the BlackBerry Pearl and other popular wireless e-mail devices, was rumored on blogs last fall to be making a new device with a different user interface from its typical keyboard and screen.

The Boy Genius Report blog even posted concept illustrations of the coming BlackBerry 9000 device, saying it had a 480-by-320-pixel touch screen and could hit the market in the first half of 2008. In that illustration, the entire front of the device was a touch screen, similar to the iPhone.

Some bloggers, including Al Sacco at CIO, were saying the device would be a suitable follow-up to Apple's iPhone touch-screen interface. (CIO is a sister publication to PCWorld.)

Since the device has not appeared and has not been announced by now, some analysts wonder if it will ever happen, or even whether it makes sense. "I'd say the chances are near zero that this [BlackBerry 9000] will happen anytime soon," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates in Northboro, Mass. "It makes no sense for them to eliminate their keyboard and navigation as it will alienate their user base and require that they totally rearchitect the OS running on the device," Gold added.

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, said he would bet that RIM wouldn't do a complete touch-screen interface. "RIM is into typing," he said, referring to the QWERTY keyboards on other RIM devices that are widely used by corporate customers and embraced by others on the consumer-focused Pearl.

But Dulaney said he believes RIM has a new user interface of some kind in development that provides "innovation in the typing area."

Several phone and wireless device makers have followed the iPhone's touch concept, and some touch screens even preceded it.

Motorola showed a Rokr E8 phone at the Consumer Electronics Show that attempts to improve on the iPhone by giving users a mild "buzz" when a key is contacted on a smooth surface. By contrast, users of the iPhone don't get a tactile response from touching keys on its plate of glass.

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