Torch the iPhone? Maybe this is RIM's answer

BlackBerry slider smartphone advances

The Torch 9800 could well be the name for Research in Motion's upcoming slider smartphone that features both a touch screen and physical keyboard as well as the next BlackBerry operating system.

If the name is correct, it could imply that RIM's response to Apple is to torch the popular iPhone , which has been eating into RIM's prominence in the North American smartphone market .

Rumors and blogger photos of the RIM device have circulated since March, but today thecellularguru.com posted a photo of the device and used the Torch 9800 name.

Various other bloggers, including Al Sacco at CIO.com , have called the device the Bold 9800 since mid-May, at least, and tied the slider form factor and other hardware features with BlackBerry 6, the upcoming OS that RIM has acknowledged is coming later this year with a better Webkit browser .

Sacco in May suggested the new device might appear in mid-July or early August on AT&T's network for about $200 and a new two-year contract. That schedule would give AT&T enough time after the launch of the iPhone 4 on June 24 to avoid squeezing too many competing device launches together, he wrote.

RIM and AT&T wouldn't comment on any of the revelations, which were also featured in a Wall Street Journal article today citing unnamed sources familiar with tests of the new slider . WSJ also said RIM is working on a separate tablet device, citing unnamed sources.

The RIM slider phone would compete with the iPhone in some ways, for example, by letting users swipe the touch screen to move from screen to screen or to expand images with a touch gesture, according to the WSJ and other sources.

The tablet is in early development, according to the WSJ sources, and is designed to be a larger-screen companion to BlackBerry phones, and would connect to the Internet via tethering to a BlackBerry.

While a larger device that is complementary to a BlackBerry for creating and editing documents makes sense, some said RIM is probably not on a path to compete with the iPad .

"I believe there is a 99% probability that [RIM] won't ... create a competitor to the iPad," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc.

"First, they don't have a proven touch interface platform yet," Dulaney added. "They have no interest in books and other [media] that perform on a larger product. They don't see this as a market they want to get into."

However, Jack Gold at J. Gold Associates, said some form of tablet would be "very attractive to enterprises that want the bigger screens that tablets bring, but still want the security and manageability that BlackBerry is known for."

The new BlackBerry 6 OS could help RIM produce a tablet, Gold added. RIM has struggled with effective touchscreen technology, especially with its first Storm smartphone , which could weigh on how well a touch-screen tablet would perform.

But Dulaney said RIM's devices "must compete" with the other touch-screen smartphones in the market. "RIM cannot be absent from that market," he added.

The key for RIM's success will be to "get the next OS version right," Gold added. Having the WebKit rendering engine and enhanced browsing, as well as HTML support for application development in BlackBerry 6, "will go a long way to catching up with iPhone and Android," Gold said.

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