BlackBerry Pearl makes a splash

RIM has launched the BlackBerry 8100 "Pearl," its smallest and sleekest phone, designed to take BlackBerry email to consumers.

Weighing only 89 grams, the Pearl is "one hundred percent smartphone, and one hundred percent BlackBerry," said Larry Conlee, chief operating officer of RIM, at the simultaneous launch in Europe of the device whose main criteria has been size and style. This will also be the first BlackBerry with a camera, and the first to have removable storage.

News stories and reviews flooded out after the 5 A.M. embargo Thursday morning.

While around 700,000 email devices sell each quarter in Western Europe, 750 million conventional phones are sold. In this larger market, users choose their device, instead of having it imposed by an IT department, so RIM has re-designed the BlackBerry, to make it more consumer-friendly.

"The biggest growth area is consumer messaging," said Charmaine Eggberry, RIM vice president, and managing director of EMEA. "Sixty percent of users want to spend their cash on it." To get this, they will increasingly buy smartphones -- but only if they can stand alongside conventional feature phones.

"People are starting to crowd round the messaging market," agreed Nick Spencer, analyst at Canalys. "It's a good market, but is a niche market."

To reach the wider market would take something more sleekly designed, and more rich in the features of conventional phones. In small businesses, users get more choice over what device they use, said Spencer, with only large powerful IT departments able to force users to carry bulky phones around with them.

"You've got to have a camera and multimedia, and commercial styling," said Larry Conlee, describing the Pearl's design process. To work as a BlackBerry, the device also had to have a large screen and a qwerty keyboard.

In order to make the device only 14.5 mm thick, RIM left out the familiar thumbwheel, adding a glowing trackball. The device uses the SureType technique by which RIM uses predictive text to overlay two Qwerty letters to each key. At 1.3 megapixels, the camera is behind state-of-the-art in feature phones but - RIM contends -- good enough to pass muster.

The device should appeal equally in Europe and the U.S., said Eggberry, at a London launch that flattered the audience as connoisseurs of taste and design. "In Europe, you won't see people with devices on their belt," said Spencer.

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