RIM's Torch With BlackBerry 6 Tries to Scorch iPhone, Android

Research In Motion today unveiled the BlackBerry Torch 9800, the first smartphone from RIM to run BlackBerry 6, and also the first slider-style mobile device from RIM with both a touchscreen and a keyboard, in its bid to prevent Android-powered handsets and Apple's iPhones from encroaching on its market share.

The Torch 9800 goes on sale Aug. 12 exclusively on AT&T, for $199, with a two-year contract. It combines the core BlackBerry enterprise experience -- keyboard, security tools -- with more modern features found on iPhones and Android smartphones, such as a WebKit-based browser, a touchscreen, rich media support and a streamlined social networking interface.

During the press event in New York City, RIM President and Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis called the launch "one of the most important product introductions" in RIM's history. He explained that the Torch name is based on RIM's purchase of Torch Mobile, which built the new browser that sports HTML 5 compatibility.

To keep pace with its rivals, RIM desperately needed to update its browser experience, as well as its UI. To that end, the Torch with BlackBerry 6 allows for tabbed browsing, universal searching, wireless media syncing through Wi-Fi, and includes a streamlined feed to aggregate messages, RSS feeds and social networking updates into a single screen. When a user selects from this list, the associated application will open.

BlackBerry 6 also offers multiple views that help users better organize their applications and content. Icons are arranged on the Home Screen in five customizable windows that users can navigate with swipes.

Also new to BlackBerry 6 are context-sensitive "action menus." Within a given application, by clicking and holding the trackpad or through an extended touch of the display, users can bring the most common actions or tasks of an application to the surface. In addition, users can multitask by holding down the menu key, which pops up a visual grid of all the applications currently running, for switching between applications.

BlackBerry Apps: It's a whole new world

On the mobile app front, Blackberry App World is preloaded on the Torch, an improvement that means users don't have to download it separately. Additionally, the new universal search lets users find apps quicker while billing updates include the ability to have AT&T directly bill for downloads, making them easier to buy. Another new feature is a try-before-you-buy tool for apps.

And, while RIM still lags behind Apple and even Google in mobile app inventory, BlackBerry 6 will run all older apps, David Yach, CTO of RIM, said during the event. He also said that new advertising service APIs will allow developers to put ads in apps from multiple ad networks.

(Some) BlackBerry 6 compatibility questions answered

For now, Blackberry 6 is exclusive to the Torch 9800, and there has been much speculation over whether other BlackBerrys will be able to run the updated operating system. RIM today announced in a statement that "subject to carrier certifications in the months ahead, the new OS is expected to be available for the BlackBerry Bold 9700, Bold 9650 and Pearl 3G, as well as future BlackBerry smartphones."

On the hardware front, the Torch 9800 has all the standard specs of most high-end smartphones. It includes: 512MB RAM, 512MB Flash, 4GB built-in memory, 3.2-inch, 480x360 color display with slide-out QWERTY keyboard and optical trackpad, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 5-megapixel camera and so on.

Antennagate and AT&T

In a nod to "antennagate," which plagued the iPhone 4 after users complained that signal reception dropped when the device was held in a way that partially blocked the antenna, Lazaridis said that RIM designs everything in-house, including antennas.

For its part, AT&T is likely hoping to diversify its portfolio with a high-end, touchscreen smartphone that is not from Apple, looking ahead to the time when its exclusive deal with the iPhone maker expires. AT&T's mobility chief Ralph de la Vega described the Torch as "a true generational shift in hardware and operating system."


Android, Blackberry, iPhone, RIM, Torch 9800