RIM BlackBerry Devices on ATandT Aim to Hold Consumer Ground

RIM and AT&T are releasing new BlackBerry smartphones running BlackBerry 7 OS. RIM is trying to hold a market-share line against Android and iOS.

Research In Motion's BlackBerry Bold 9900 and Torch 9860 will debut on AT&T's 4G HSPA+ network Nov. 6. The carrier also plans on making the BlackBerry Curve 9360 available Nov. 20.

The three devices, all of which run BlackBerry 7 OS, represent part of RIM's attempt to hold the market-share line until it can release its so-called "superphones" within the next few quarters. Those superphones will run a QNX-based BBX operating system. Until they actually arrive, however, RIM must depend on the freshly tweaked version of its operating system, in conjunction with some redesigned hardware, in order to fend off Google Android, Apple's iOS, and Windows Phone.

The BlackBerry Bold 9900 is a thinner version of the longstanding Bold design, complete with 2.8-inch screen and QWERTY keyboard. The Curve 9360 is likewise slim, with a screen slightly smaller than that of the Bold. The Torch 9860 takes a slightly different design approach from many of the other models in RIM's portfolio, swapping out a physical QWERTY keyboard for a 3.7-inch touch display.

The big question now is when RIM will decide to actually release its devices running BBX. The company announced earlier in October that its long-awaited update to the PlayBook tablet, which would add features such as integrated email, wouldn't arrive until February 2012.

"We expect to deliver the new BlackBerry PlayBook OS to customers in February 2012," David Smith, RIM's senior vice president of BlackBerry PlayBook, wrote in a post published on RIM's official BlackBerry blog Oct. 25, "and we'll continue to keep you updated as we progress to the launch."

He also described the decision to wait on the PlayBook OS 2.0 launch as a "difficult" one, driven by a need to be "confident we have fully met the expectations of our developers, enterprise customers and end-users."

The fight to establish a larger role in tablets, however, might prove secondary to RIM's need to reassert itself as a player in the smartphone sphere, especially among its core business users in the enterprise. Research firm Nielsen estimated RIM's share of the U.S. smartphone market at 18 percent through August, behind both Google Android (43 percent) and Apple iOS (28 percent) but well ahead of Microsoft (8 percent). Microsoft is pouring millions of dollars into making Windows Phone the smartphone space's third major ecosystem, and both Android and iOS have made significant inroads within the business community over the past several quarters.

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