BlackBerry: New Smartphones Try to Keep Up With Apple iPhone, Google Android

PHOTO: BlackBerry Bold 9900 is pictured in this undated file photo.
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BlackBerry, whose handheld smartphones revolutionized the way business people stay in touch with the world, unveiled a new line of phones today -- just days after it announced 2,000 job cuts, revamped top management, and saw its stock hit a five-year low.

The new models, with touch screens, slide-out keyboards and a faster, more versatile operating system, were designed to appeal to BlackBerry's core audience of business users, while keeping up with increasingly some stiff competition: Apple's iPhone (the upcoming iPhone 5 has the blogosphere buzzing) and phones that run on Google's Android operating system.

Research In Motion, the Canadian company that sells BlackBerrys, is profitable and its sales are rising -- but it still has a tremendous problem. Apple and Android are eating its lunch. Smart phone consumers who expect the Web at their fingertips have turned away from Blackberry toward its more Internet-friendly counterparts.

Now some analysts see RIM as a has-been, a company that gave the world constant access to email on the go, but couldn't turn it into mass-market dominance.

"They were very late to make a major transition," said Alkesh Shah, an analyst at Evercore Partners in New York. "They made great phones that focus around email, but not around the Internet. And that's where Apple and Android are way ahead of them."

The new RIM lineup includes three versions of the BlackBerry Torch (models 9810, 9850 and 9860), a multimedia handheld whose large touch screen makes it look much like an iPhone with extra buttons. Updated versions of the BlackBerry Bold -- models 9900 and 9930 -- take a more down-the-middle approach, combining a new touch screen with the kind of keyboard that had millions of users trying to type messages as they raced through airports or walked down the street.

The company is hardly about to go under. Most companies and government agencies still issue BlackBerrys, not iPhones, to their employees for business use. And BlackBerrys are still wildly popular in other parts of the world -- much more popular than Apple in the Middle East and parts of Asia and Europe.

Even the new phones, though, will not bring RIM back into competition for U.S. consumers -- at least not yet. The company promises a new operating system next year, called QNX, designed to compete directly with Apple, Google, and other companies such as Motorola and Samsung. That'll be crunch time for BlackBerry.

"It's possible for them to pull it off, but they need to be much faster and much more flexible than they've been," said Shah. "They have a great email smartphone. The problem is that to people using smartphones, that's a given.

"RIM should have taken notice," he said.

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