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RIM's BlackBerry 'Flips' Out to Woo Consumers - InternetNews.
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RIM's BlackBerry 'Flips' Out to Woo Consumers

BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220
The BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220
Source: RIM

Research In Motion is betting a new phone design will lead to greater appeal beyond its core enterprise user base, today announcing its first flip-open, clamshell-style BlackBerry -- the BlackBerry Pearl Flip 8220.

The Flip 8220's dramatic design change, which also switches out the full QWERTY-style keyboard for a reduced, 20-button format, is evidence of RIM's (NASDAQ: RIMM) intention to move deeper into the consumer space as well as its efforts to stave off increasing competition, such as Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) ever-popular iPhone.

"These are strictly consumer devices by virtue of the narrow-form keyboard," Carmi Levy, an analyst at AR Communications told InternetNews.com. Enterprise users want heavy-duty text entry over Web-surfing consumer counterparts, Levy said, and that's why enterprise-focused BlackBerry devices have typically featured a full-width keyboard.

The device is expected to become available through U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile later in the season.

RIM enjoys a very comfortable lead in the smartphone market, with the BlackBerry now representing one out of every 10 smartphones sold in the United States, according to an April report from industry watcher Strategy Analytics.

But increasing competition in the consumer space -- as well as more advanced devices coming into the U.S. market from European powerhouse Nokia -- are forcing the Canadian-based device maker to keep moving forward with new designs, Levy said.

"It needs a strong lineup to position itself against Apple's iPhone 3G in the minds of holiday shoppers," he said, adding that even greater competition looms with the possibility of new products stemming from Nokia's big Symbian OS play, not to mention the highly anticipated arrival of Google's Android smartphone.

Reuters reported that the first Google Android phone could arrive within two weeks. It's also believed to be launched in partnership with T-Mobile.

"RIM's ability to get all of its next-generation devices out the door and into the channel by year's end as originally planned is critical to its continued market and revenue growth," Levy said.

RIM first began exploring consumer phones with the launch of the Pearl in 2006, with features that included a camera and MP3 player. Main competitors back then were Palm's Treo line and Motorola's Q phones.

In January, RIM sought to enhance the Pearl's consumer appeal by integrating television, music and Facebook social-networking software.

The new BlackBerry Pearl Flip now features two high-resolution, light-sensing color displays. The external LCD lets users preview incoming e-mails, text messages and phone calls without opening the handset.

“The popularity of BlackBerry smartphones has grown tremendously and this new flip phone will help extend the reach of the BlackBerry platform even further,” Mike Lazaridis, RIM's president and co-CEO, said in a statement. Company executives were unable for further comment by press time.

More directly in response to the iPhone, the Flip provides the BlackBerry Media Sync application that lets users sync Apple's iTunes digital music collections with the smartphone. The device's browser now also supports online streaming video.

A recent study noted that iPhone lovers are more focused than other owners on multimedia features and ease of use. Accordingly, analysts believe that the appeal of such elements will spur smartphone design and feature changes.

"The smartphone market is about to get a lot more crowded, so on-target product launches suddenly matter to RIM more than they ever have," Levy said.

In addition to launching its new smartphone today, RIM announced that AOL AIM and ICQ instant messaging services, as well as AOL Mail, are now available on BlackBerry devices.