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RIM takes touchscreen market by ‘Storm’: Verizon Wireless, Vodafone to sell BlackBerry gadget, pricing TBA

Research In Motion Ltd. said today that its new touchscreen effort – the Storm – is due at Verizon Wireless “later this fall,” pricing to be announced.
The price of the device is, of course, the most critical bit of information needed to assess the array of gadget offerings available to consumers this fall. Touchscreen-equipped smartphones sit atop the device offerings this fall, following the global interest in Apple Inc.’s iPhone.
With the iPhone 3G with 8 GB of memory selling at $200 at AT&T Mobility and the Google/HTC Corp. G1 slotted for T-Mobile USA at $180, catching consumers’ attention with cool devices and, more importantly, seducing them to spend in the midst of a global economic crisis is the name of the fourth-quarter retail game.
Getting consumers to spend is, in fact, RIM’s acknowledged challenge: The company last month gave a tepid forecast for the current quarter based on product delays, higher production costs and dampened expectations for consumer and enterprise spending.
But in the game of building expectations, RIM said that the device, which features tactile feedback, will deliver both consumer and business features. The company, once enterprise-focused, now straddles both markets effectively. In fact, recent data show that as much as 60% of RIM’s current sales are to consumers, according to several analysts.
The Storm announcement raised the stakes for RIM in a crucial quarter for the company and the industry, according to analyst Ittai Kidron at Oppenheimer.
“With strong carrier support this holiday season, we believe the Storm fundamentally changes the game for RIM,” Kidron wrote today in a note to investors. “After being penalized for delays and margin issues related to its new products, RIM must deliver with the Storm. The Storm represents (the company’s) most important growth driver and redefines RIM’s presence in the consumer market.”
Analyst Kevin Burden at ABI Research said that the Storm appeared to deliver value to both consumer and enterprise markets, RIM’s key market advantage.
“While the Storm is about RIM’s continued expansion beyond its mobile professional base, it is still linked to BlackBerry’s key selling point, which is its back-end infrastructure that delivers one of the most compelling mobile e-mail experiences,” Burden said in an ABI press release. “BlackBerry has always been more than just a device sale and that will not change with the Storm.”
Without pricing or a specific release date, RIM and its carrier partners touted the device’s features – addressing at least the need to capture consumers’ attention.
The device will pack 3G connectivity on Verizon Wireless’ CDMA Revision A network and GSM/GPRS/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA (2100 MHz) for global roaming. Verizon Wireless parent Vodafone said today that it would also carry the device and roll it out in Europe and other markets “next month,” news that marks further collaboration between the two carriers as they move toward a combined LTE network.
The BlackBerry touchscreen will respond to virtual key commands with a “light click,” the company said, which represents a challenge to the iPhone (which doesn’t provide feedback) and other touchscreen devices (which generally only rely on “haptic” vibration feedback).
The device also offers personal and corporate e-mail, text, picture and instant messaging, the ability to shift between portrait and landscape mode depending on how the device is held (using the same accelerometer technology as Apple’s iPhone), built-in GPS, a 3.2 megapixel camera, 1 GB of onboard memory and support for a 16 GB memory card.
RIM’s announcement included word that it has made available new developer tools for the Storm and its Bold (expected, but delayed, at AT&T Mobility) and Pearl Flip devices.

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