BlackBerry Maker RIM Testing Tablet, Touch-Screen Smartphone, Report Says
BlackBerry maker Research In Motion may be
joining the ranks of manufacturers bringing tablet-style devices to market following
the success of the Apple iPad.
RIM is said to be at work on a tablet that would serve as a companion device to its popular smartphones, the Wall Street Journal reported June 14, citing "people familiar with RIM's plans."
The RIM tablet would reportedly connect to cellular networks through a BlackBerry handset, and could hit stores in time for the holiday shopping season.
While a tablet could be a nice addition to RIM's BlackBerry portfolio, analyst Ken Hyers with Technology Business Research told eWEEK that "much will depend on the ability of the new BlackBerry 6 OS to provide a engaging experience. The Storm touch screen was not terribly exciting, but the new OS promises to be much nicer, incorporating features like swipe and pinch-to-zoom. A larger tablet, with the ability to link to key enterprise productivity apps, could be a very useful accessory for the business traveler."
RIM is also said to be testing a "touch-screen smartphone with a slide-out keyboard," the Journal added, again citing unnamed sources. Like the iPhone and competing smartphones that have followed it, the newest BlackBerry handset would use a multitouch-like technology, enabling users to swipe through screens with their fingers and adjust image sizes by making pinching and expanding motions.
In the United States, BlackBerry handsets are the best-selling smartphones. According to a March report from ComScore, 42.7 million Americans currently use smartphones, of which 43 percent are RIM handsets, while 25.1 percent are from Apple.
Worldwide, RIM is outsold only by handset giant Nokia, which following slips in recent quarters showed a strong first quarter of 2010-a success attributed to the inclusion of touch screens in 50 percent of its smartphone lineup.
While RIM's BlackBerry handsets have been described as the "gold standard" of mobile devices for the enterprise, more than half of RIM's sales are now to consumers, who now face the temptation of Apple's upcoming iPhone 4, as well as a swelling number of Android-running smartphones, including the popular Motorola Droid and the HTC Evo 4G, which can access 3G and 4G networks.
The tablet market has also quickly grown beyond Apple's iPad, with Dell introducing the 5-inch Streak, Hewlett-Packard reportedly planning launches of both Microsoft- and WebOS-powered tablets, Asus introducing two Eee Pad tablets, Sony saying it's considering building one, and Verizon and Google confirming they have a tablet in the works.
As for a new RIM smartphone that can compete in this busy marketplace, the combination of a keyboard and touch screen might be just what it takes.
"RIM has been fairly staid in its BlackBerry phone design over the years, and while I think the design has appealed to its business customers, new form factors are helping other vendors gain share," Hyers said. "I think it's high time that RIM [extends] touch beyond the Storm platform to other devices, but I believe a full QWERTY keyboard is necessary for its heavily e-mail-focused customers. A slide-out keyboard in addition to a touch screen offers the best of both worlds."