RIM’s BlackBerry Tour, Samsung’s Jet to Face Off

The summer smartphone showdown continues taking shape with new competitors joinin the fray, as Research In Motion unveils the 3G BlackBerry Tour while Samsung introduces the touchscreen Jet.

Each will go up against a slew of rivals, coming on the heels of the Palm Pre and iPhone 3G S launches.

Palm’s (NASDAQ: PALM) Pre — seen as a make-or-break product for the company — has generally received positive reviews and is on sale now while Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) new iPhone goes on sale tomorrow in stores, and reports indicate that pre-orders have already sold out.

With the BlackBerry Tour, Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) aims to deliver on its promise to court the consumer market while not alienating its core corporate clients.

The handset, which will be sold through Sprint and Verizon, touts multimedia and social networking features as well as robust functionality for secure e-mail and international travel connectivity.

The new handset is what RIM calls a “world phone,” which means it can easily access voice and data services on networks outside the user’s home country, which appeals to enterprise users. For the general consumer market, the Tour includes features similar to those in the BlackBerry Curve and Pearl, such as a digital camera and media player.

While some industry watchers are wondering how RIM will fare amid the unprecedented competition in the smartphone sector, at least two analysts think the Tour will help solidify the company’s position.

“The Tour is an amalgam of all the best stuff RIM has put into its GSM BlackBerries, now available for CDMA carriers like Sprint,” Avi Greengart, analyst at Current Analysis, told InternetNews.com. “There’s nothing here that’s groundbreaking from an industry perspective, but the Tour will be extremely welcome for BlackBerry users — whether personal or corporate.”

Broadpoint Amtech analyst Mark McKechnie wrote in a research note that, “We think a reasonable estimate for [sales of] Tour in the August quarter is 400,000 to 600,000 units.” He added that the Tour could add $175 million to sales in RIM’s second quarter, which ends in August.

Meanwhile, South Korea-based Samsung, currently the second largest mobile phone maker after Nokia, is also gunning for sales this summer with its touchscreen Samsung Jet.

The Jet does not run on a traditional smartphone operating system, but rather on the company’s own proprietary system, called TouchWiz. Though the company is optimistic about selling enough touchscreen mobile devices to increase its worldwide market share, no U.S. carrier to date has signed on to carry the Jet.

Samsung and RIM aren’t the only handset makers in the news this week. Finnish phone giant Nokia (NYSE:NOK), the biggest mobile phone manufacturer in the world, launched its new E72 and a touchscreen music phone, the 5530 Xpressmusic phone.

The E72, a super-slim QWERTY phone, is an updated version of its well-received E71, while the 5530 Xpressmusic phone is a follow up to its 5800 phone.

Both are set to ship in the third quarter, and both will plunge Nokia deep into the fray. Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi told Reuters, “Nokia is trying to address the very competitive mid-range space given the prices of the Pre and the new iPhone.”

Smartphone profits

With Apple, Palm, RIM, Samsung and Nokia among the big names committed to pushing out new smartphone models this summer, it’s no wonder that the product category is seen as one of the few hot areas in technology — and as the force driving the overall mobile market.

The latest data from research firm Yankee Group found that 41 percent of consumers are likely to purchase a smartphone as their next mobile device, with smartphones comprising 38 percent of all handsets by 2013.

But the allure of growing smartphone sales has the mobile market experiencing unprecedented competition. In addition to the models rolled out this month, the industry has seen signature upgrades of mobile operating systems.

Meanwhile, observers expect RIM to launch the BlackBerry Storm 2, while Samsung, HTC, Acer and Motorola are nearing launches of handsets based on the Google-backed Android operating system.

The success of the smartphone market amid a wider economic slump is also helping grow the burgeoning mobile applications industry, as well as the fledgling fields of mobile advertising and mobile commerce.

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