BlackBerry Storm Could Hit Tomorrow

Research in Motion (RIM) may debut its latest consumer-centric BlackBerry, the long-awaited, feature-rich Storm 9730, as early as tomorrow.

According to RBC analyst Mike Abramsky, the touchscreen-based Storm is set to make its first public appearance in London this week, highlighting expected features like a widescreen mode, improved camera and e-mail features and a removable battery.

The rumor mill has been steadily churning out news about the Storm, which is viewed by industry watchers as RIM’s most aggressive attack to date on the Apple iPhone, and the latest smartphone to vie to thwart the iPhone’s rapid growth. Like the popular Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) device, the Storm will offer a touchscreen interface and an online store through with users can download applications, Abramsky wrote.

He also said the Storm will carry a retail price of $199 when it goes on sale in early November, with its actual sale date coinciding with the launch of RIM’s (NASDAQ: RIMM) official applications store, the BlackBerry Apps Center.

Calls to RIM on the Storm’s launch date were not returned by press time.

While Apple remains a niche player in the overall mobile phone market, its year-old iPhone is quickly rising to new heights in the high-end smartphone segment. New researchfrom NPD Group found that Apple’s slice of the smartphone market went from 11 percent in June to 17 percent of the market by the end of August.

With an eye to stem Apple’s rise in the space, RIM may be betting on some key differentiating features. In his note, Abramsky said that RIM claims Storm’s innovative “click technology” touchscreen would provide “superior” typing accuracy compared to the iPhone.

If embraced by users, this typing feature — combined with BlackBerry push e-mail and tighter server integration — could make Storm “the first touchscreen smartphone truly usable for composing/sending frequent e-mail, leveraging a RIM hallmark as it enters the consumer market,” he wrote.

At the same time, Apple’s iPhone App Store will face comparisons to the Storm’s new BlackBerry Apps Center, which will include applications by third-party developers and Verizon Wireless, according to Abramsky. It will carry software including the GPS-based VZ Navigator location and maps app, as well as apps by Facebook, MySpace, TiVo, Slacker Personal Radio and Ticketmaster, he wrote.

Evidently, Abramsky anticipates at least some traction for the Storm. In his report, he said he expects RIM to ship 850,000 Storms during RIM’s fiscal third and fourth quarters, and three to four million within the first year of sales. The analyst also expects aggressive marketing effort by exclusive carrier Verizon Wireless, the device’s U.S. carrier.

RIM isn’t the only big name angling for dominance in the smartphone market, with the Storm’s expected debut coming just weeks after the G1 HTC handset arrived, featuring the Google-back Android OS and an iPhone-like touchscreen. The G1’s introduction came just ahead of the launch of Nokia’s music centric 5800 XpressMusic.

Additionally, HP is widely expected to introduce its second smartphone within months. The new HP iPAQ model is thought to include a touchscreen design similar to the iPhone, and will run on the Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system.

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