RIM Curves It Around

BlackBerry revealed its second major phone launch aimed at a mass-market audience today with the new "Curve" smartphone, which will be sold by AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and "wireless carriers around the world" this spring.

The Curve -- named for its rounded edges -- follows on the heels of the Pearl, RIM's first mainstream phone, which was launched late last year. As Unstrung reported in March the phone (then codenamed "Crimson") is a cross-pollination of the Pearl and RIM's 8800 device. The gadget combines a full-Qwerty keyboard but with a camera onboard and updated media software. (See RIM's Crimson Tide and RIM Fires Back With 8800.)

The software upgrades include a BlackBerry desktop media manager (developed with Roxio) that allows users to find, organize, and transfer media files between the Curve and their computer. RIM has talked more about ramping up its media software capabilities recently, perhaps with an eye on new competition from Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) as it readies the iPhone for an early summer launch.

RIM hasn't announced pricing for the device yet. Analysts have mixed opinions on the cost with the $200-plus range being the most popular option with some analysts suggesting it will be as low as $150 with a contract.

"A realistic range at launch would put it somewhere between $200 and $300, and it will vary based on carrier and price plan type," suggests Info-Tech Research Group analyst Carmi Levy. "This will split the difference nicely between RIM’s now-entry-level offerings [Pearl] and its more enterprise-focused devices [8800]."

J.Gold Associates's Jack Gold predicts that -- like the Pearl -- prices will fall fast once the device is on the market, perhaps even to the $100 range. "I don’t think the Curve will be priced quite that low at intro -- I’d guess probably in the $149, $199 range at intro -- I suspect it will get there fairly quickly."

Gold also reckons that the Curve will also "put some competitive pressure on Nokia and Moto to get a more business oriented entertainment-centric device out there at a reasonable cost."

Some will no doubt be slightly underwhelmed with connectivity options offered on this new gizmo. The Canadian vendor still isn't moving to UMTS -- the next rung on the 3G GSM ladder -- with the curve. The company has so far maintained that it is happy with the performance and battery life of its EDGE devices, which will get download speeds of around 100 Kbit/s on the EDGE network.

Todd Kort at Gartner Inc. also bemoans the lack of wireless LAN capabilities. "I think RIM would be wise to include WiFi and GPS in all of their models," he tells Unstrung. So far, RIM only has one device with 802.11 inside, the 7270.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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