Reports: RIM to Battle Apple With New Phone and Tablet

Research In Motion (RIM) is expected to unveil at a press event Tuesday a new touchscreen-based BlackBerry smartphone to compete with the iPhone 4. It’s also rumored to announce a tablet-like device to go head-to-head with the iPad.

Although BlackBerry smartphones managed to retain their market-leading edge in terms of share, Research in Motion failed to unveil any groundbreaking devices to counter the increasing popularity of Apple and Google Android-based smartphones, which are now threatening RIM dominant position.

In true Apple-style secrecy, RIM is keeping mum on the announcements it would make today at an exclusive event at 11am EDT, but leaked pictures and information over the past few weeks are giving quite a clear picture of what’s coming up.

Throughout the year, snippets of RIM’s upcoming products surfaced, but the company kept quiet on its plans. After two unpopular touchscreen-only devices (BlackBerry Storm, Storm 2), RIM is expected to introduce the BlackBerry 9800, which next to a touchscreen, will also feature a slide-out keyboard.

The Storm and Storm 2 have been knocked by reviewers for their implementation of on-screen software keyboards. The original Storm has a clicky and fiddly keyboard that required you to have a hard press on the display to type. The second iteration removed this feature, but reviewers were still not impressed.

A couple of months ago, a full-fledged preview of the BlackBerry 9800 expected today surfaced, showing the device in full glory. Next to an on-screen keyboard, the phone also has a full QWERTY slide-out keyboard. Specs of the model also include a 1GHz processor, and a 5-megapixel camera, alongside 512MB of RAM.

The BlackBerry 9800 is expected to be an AT&T exclusive, and the price would be in line with Apple and Android competitors, at around US$199 with a two-year contract. RIM has also put the 9800 through the FCC, making its launch imminent.

In the past few weeks, RIM teased with several short videos of its upcoming BlackBerry OS 6, which was specially refreshed for finger-based usage. It features a simplified home screen, new music player, social networking integration, and finally a WebKit-based browser with pinch-to-zoom. BB OS 6 is believed to debut on the Blackberry 9800.

As Apple celebrates over 3 million iPads sold to date, RIM is reportedly toying with the idea of joining the tablet fray as well. Dubbed the BlackPad (expect a new round of jokes regarding the name), is reported to feature a screen similar in size to the iPad, but won’t have any 3G radio inside.

Instead, the BlackPad is rumored to tether with existing BlackBerry smartphones, either via WiFi or Bluetooth. The BlackPad is supposed to target the corporate world, and my colleague Jeff Bertolucci looked at several scenarios for the tablet’s future, considering the spew of Android tablets coming up this year.

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