Research In Motion, with carrier partner AT&T, introduced the BlackBerry Torch in New York Aug. 3. The honors of revealing the device went to AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega, who, pulling it from the breast pocket of his suit to hold aloft for the assembled audience, insisted it was, “The best BlackBerry ever.”
The BlackBerry Torch is the first handset to run BlackBerry 6 OS-the new operating system that RIM has been sharing details about. It’s also the first to pair a BlackBerry keyboard with an optical trackpad and a full touch-screen experience-or, to be exact, a 3.2-inch capacitive touch display with a resolution of 360 by 480.
A slim slider, the Torch measures 2.4 by 0.57 by 4.4 inches (5.8 inches when it’s open), weighs 5.68 ounces and includes 4GB of built-in storage, a memory card slot for up to 32GB more and a 624MHz processor with 512MB of Flash memory. It will be available exclusively from AT&T beginning Aug. 12, for $199 with a two-year contract.
AT&T is of course also the exclusive provider of the Apple iPhone, and has taxed its network and its resources in the effort to transition to 4G. That the network might find it challenging to additionally support “the best BlackBerry ever” appeared not to be a concern for de la Vega, who additionally told the audience, noting the rise of smartphones and connected devices and the increasing prominence of fast broadband networks: “The U.S. was a laggard, but that’s no longer the case. The U.S. is now the leader!”
The Torch is the first BlackBerry handset with a WebKit browser and subsystem-it’s named, after all, after the Web browser developer Torch Mobile that RIM acquired a year ago, said RIM Co-CEO Mike Lazaridis.
“It’s not only fresh and exciting but familiar,” said Lazaridis, reiterating a major theme for the Torch. “You’ll notice we spent a lot of time on the details.”
These details include a Universal Search feature that lets users search the device or extend that search to the Web. When displaying Web pages, the Torch auto-wraps text when one zooms in on it, reformatting the article to read like an e-mail. There’s also a redesigned multimedia environment that, among other features, simplifies the management of social networks and RSS feeds. Messaging has also been simplified, with greater fluidity between applications.
The Torch also has a 5-megapixel camera that’s complemented with location awareness-which also works to inform location-based applications. And while users can watch video over 3G or WiFi connections, they can also enjoy a host of applications, such as PrimeTime2Go, which can be programmed to record a user’s favorite shows for later viewing.
Gartner Analyst Carolina Milanesi, in a blog post following the announcement, noted that touch-enabled devices have of course been popular for some time now, and RIM first jumped on the trend with its Storm and Storm 2 handsets. However, the RIM operating system that worked well with the BlackBerry keypad-a favored feature among RIM users, who tend to be heavy e-mailers and text-senders-worked less well with the touch interfaces on those devices.
“The Torch bridges these two use cases to offer a more traditional solution to RIM’s core users with the added bonus of a new OS that improves the touch experience,” Milanesi wrote. “It will certainly offer a nice upgrade path for Bold users.”
Analysts have suggested that RIM needs a new winning device to more effectively compete against the Apple iPhone and Android-running handsets in North America. But while Milanesi said the Torch is likely to prevent BlackBerry customers from straying, “I do not think we will see users moving in the other direction because of the Torch,” she forecast.
For AT&T, however, which is expected to lose its exclusive rights to the iPhone in early 2011, the Torch is “certainly a good-to-have device,” Milanesi wrote, “as speculations around the end of the iPhone exclusivity are mounting.”