RIM launches two new BlackBerry Torch phones

Research In Motion on Wednesday took the wraps off two more powerful versions of its touchscreen BlackBerry Torch, aiming to buy time until it can introduce a radically new software package in its smartphones.The new phones, along with a Bold upgrade unveiled earlier, are part of what the Canadian company called its biggest global launch ever as it seeks to claw back North American market share losses from Apple‘s iconic iPhone and a slew of devices running on Google’s Android software.

Investors reacted favorably, pushing RIM’s deflated stock price up 3 percent.

“RIM’s new BlackBerry smartphones could well be the most important devices in the Canadian smart device vendor’s history, following a recent slowdown in device shipments, staff cuts and doubts over the company’s strategy and leadership,” Ovum analyst Tony Cripps said.

The three touchscreen phones, running on the new BlackBerry OS 7, boast improved screen displays and pack a 1.2 GHz processor from Qualcomm, the most powerful ever for a BlackBerry phone. All three devices will launch with carriers globally by the end of August, RIM said.

The browser is 40 percent faster than the original Torch, hit shelves almost a year ago.

But since co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis has already promised “superphones” next year using the QNX-based operating system that runs RIM’s PlayBook tablet computer, analysts are looking beyond the launch.

“This is a necessary product refresh in advance of the big bang that we hope and expect will happen with QNX-based phones,” said CCS Insight vice-president of research John Jackson.

RIM shipped 13.2 million phones in the three months to late May, its first fall in shipments versus the prior quarter since at least mid-2007, as it pushed this launch back to August.

One of the Torch versions looks identical to the original touchscreen device with a slideout Qwerty keyboard. The other is RIM’s first touch-only device since the disappointment of its Storm model.

The Bold upgrade will feature a near-field communications (NFC) chip that can turn the phone into a mobile wallet. It was first shown at RIM’s BlackBerry World conference in May.

RIM’s North American market share has fallen in the past year as high-end Android devices proliferate and Verizon added Apple‘s iPhone to its lineup. Globally the fall has been less severe, but from a smaller starting point, according to data compiled by research firms CCS Insight and Gartner.

“What would constitute success for these guys is essentially holding the fort,” CCS’s Jackson said. “A stop-loss outcome would be a success for these products in developed markets.”

Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM has seen its share price fall 65 percent from a February peak, as its earnings and outlook missed expectations and its PlayBook fails to dent the iPad‘s dominance of the tablet market.

The stock jumped a dollar to $25.13 on the Nasdaq in early trade and to $23.97 on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It closed on Tuesday at levels last seen five years ago, giving the company a market capitalization of $12.7 billion.


TORONTO (Reuters) – By Alastair Sharp(Editing by Janet Guttsman)


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