The New BlackBerry Torch: A Rival for iPhone?

BlackBerry Torch
BlackBerry Torch

It's sleek, comes with a touch screen, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a host of new social media and Web browsing features. But can it beat Apple at its own game?

Research In Motion (RIMM) unveiled the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and a new operating system on Tuesday in a bid to show it, too, can deliver a cool consumer gadget. The new phone has a 3.2-inch screen, a five-megapixel camera, four gigabytes of memory and a four gigabyte memory card. It can do wi-fi, Bluetooth and 3G.

AT&T will make the Torch available to consumers on Aug. 12, charging $199 with a 2-year contract.

(Engadget has a hands-on review of the new phone here.)

Chasing Apple

Expectations for RIM's latest effort are high. Although the company is a dominant player in the market, its offerings have paled in features and glamor compared to Apple's (AAPL) iPhone and those running on Google's (GOOG) Android operating system.

BlackBerry has long been popular with corporate customers, thanks to its good email software and keyboard design. As a result, RIM has remained a big player in the smartphone market, taking the No. 2 spot and grabbing 18% of the market worldwide. It is particularly strong in the U.S. market with about 32% of market in the second quarter of 2010.

But smartphones have changed in recent years, becoming cool gadgets for average consumers, thanks in part by Apple's foray into the field. Apple has given consumers not just a device to make calls, but a cool new tool that surfs the Web, manages social networks, captures and plays photos and videos, and comes alive with a wide variety of apps. Android phones have followed suit.

RIM knows it has some catching up to do. It hopes to accomplish that with the new BlackBerry Torch and its new operating system, BlackBerry 6. The company promises the new phone and operating system will wow consumes with tools that manage social media, improve the browsing experience and expand messaging capabilities.

Loads of New Features

The new offerings include a universal search tool that looks through files stored on the phone as well as on the Web, and that makes it easier for consumers to get apps from its online shop, the BlackBerry App World. To underscore the importance of offering fun apps, the Torch will be the first BlackBerry to come with its App World pre-installed.

The Torch also comes with software to centralize access to popular social networking sites, RSS feeds and various instant messaging tools, including Facebook, Twitter, AOL Instant Messenger and Google Talk. The new text messaging application allows consumers to view their conversations in one thread and include photos and videos in their chats.

The new phone also should make it easier to manage and download photos, songs and videos. A feature, called Wi-Fi Music Sync lets people browse their music collections on iTunes or Windows Media on their computers. RIM says it also has improved the camera and photo and video features.

Clearly, RIM has learned a few lessons from watching Apple and other smartphone makers and hopes to polish its brand with the Torch and the new OS.