September 10, 2008

RIM Debuts New Flip Phone

Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) will unveil a long-rumored flip version of its BlackBerry smartphone Wednesday, marking a departure from the traditional BlackBerry design and confirming the company's drive into the retail consumer market.

The new phone, called the BlackBerry Pearl Flip, and will be available from T-Mobile USA and other international wireless carriers later this year.

The new design includes a hinge-separated display and keyboard typically seen on traditional cell phones, and will come with multimedia features such as a video and music player, a 2-megapixel camera, a Web browser and an abridged keyboard.

"Seventy percent of the mobile phone users in the United States use a flip," RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said in an interview with Reuters.
"There's never been a smartphone or a BlackBerry option for that," he said, adding that the new phone will be "extremely important" in luring retail subscribers.

The flip design is particularly popular in the U.S., Balsillie said, where 70 percent of the handsets have this design.

"Bringing this form factor to the smart phone category is, we think, very special," he told the AP.

RIM did not disclose the price of the new smartphone. Balsillie said T-Mobile USA would be the phone's exclusive U.S. carrier at least through the end of the year. BlackBerry phones typically begin with a single carrier, and are then later picked up by the other national wireless operators.

"Smart" phones, such as the Blackberry, augment traditional cell phone features with applications like e-mail and Web browsing, which has been RIM's strong suit. The Flip has RIM's conventional "candybar" shape, with both models including 20 keys that double up on some letters, in contrast to traditional Blackberries that have a greater number of keys but assign only one letter per key.

RIM has been highly successful with the Pearl, its first entry into the consumer market two years ago. It marked the company's transition of the Blackberry from a must-have professional accessory to a popular consumer item for those wanting more functionality in their cellphones.

Data from research firm IDC showed that RIM secured 53.6 percent of the U.S. smartphone market in the second quarter, but the figure was likely inflated as iPhone buyers delayed their purchase a quarter in anticipation of the launch of Apple's new model. RIM is widely expected to release a touch-screen, keypad-less version of its phone in the near future to compete with the iPhone.

The new Flip will be able to place calls over a Wi-Fi network, which will complement T-Mobile USA's relatively slow data network and ease any potential issues with poor network coverage in some places. 

Responding to questions of whether additional BlackBerry models would be launched before the end of the year, Balsillie said: "We're far from done." 
Shares of RIM jumped early on Wednesday trading, rising $3.37, or 3.4 percent, to $102.67 on NASDAQ.


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