Blackberry Pearl makes a splash

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Research In Motion (RIM) launched the 8100 ‘BlackBerry Pearl’, a stylish mobile handset that comes equipped with a digital camera and other multi-media capabilities. The smartphone is poised to become the new gem of the Waterloo, Ont-based company as it heads for a wider consumer market.

RIM launched the device in collaboration with T-Mobile USA, the fourth largest wireless service provider in the United States.

BlackBerry Pearl will be made available next month by Rogers Wireless in Canada and other carriers in Europe. Units will be shipped to the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America later this year.

“The BlackBerry Pearl elegantly combines an incredible small, stylish and full-featured smartphone with the gold standard in wireless email and the result is something special,” a company press statement quoted Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO of RIM as saying.

A Canadian telecommunications industry analyst said BlackBerry Pearl was a much anticipated product in the industry. “This was a brilliant move on the part of RIM,” said Carmi Levy, senior analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Inc., in London, Ont.

“Industry insiders have been saying all along that RIM should expand its offering to get out of the boardroom and appeal to a wider consumer market,” he added.

Roberta Fox, principal of the telecommunications consultancy firm Fox Group Inc. in Mount Albert, Ont., however, believes RIM is not leaving the enterprise market but is instead offering a more flexible product for coporate users. “They are not going after the consumer market.”

“I think RIM has decided to keep its focus on the corporate wireless market,” Fox said.

She said Pearl’s access to BlackBerry’s business oriented applications indicate the new phone is still aimed at the corporate market although it may appeal to “consumers seeking more sophisticated devices.”

Beneath its sleek exterior, which measures just 4.2″ x 1.97″ x .57″ and weighs only 3.1 ounces, the BlackBerry Pearl is a quad-band GSM/GPRS and EDGE (enhanced data rates for global evolution)-enabled mobile application that delivers performance equal to Blackberry’s latest handsets.

The phone also has an expandable built-in 64MB flash memory with a Micro SD card that provides users with storage for music, pictures, videos, and data files.

RIM said the phone’s features include voice recognition for voice activated dialing, support for polyphonic, MP3, and MIDI ring tones. The device also has intuitive call management features such as smart dialing, conference calling, speed dialing and call forwarding.

It also features a speakerphone and Bluetooth 2.0 for use with hands-free headsets, car kits and other Bluetooth peripherals such as a GPS receiver.

The BlackBerry Pearl also comes with an enhanced version of RIM’s SureType QWERTY keypad.

The handset is supported on BlackBerry Internet Service as well as BlackBerry Enterprise Server, with a new set of IT policy controls on the latter to allow IT departments to administer camera and expansion memory settings on corporate handsets.

The device’s display screen uses a built-in light sensing technology automatically adjusts the screen and keypad brightness for optimum viewing of emails and attachments, pictures, web pages, business applications and games in indoor, outdoor and dark environments.

The camera comes with a built-in flash and 5x digital zoom. The photos it takes can also be set as caller ID images.

BlackBerry Maps, available only in the US, delivers maps and step-by-step driving directions. Together with other BlackBerry applications, the feature enables Pearl users to send maps via email and launch maps from other applications including contacts in their address book.

The phone’s media player supports MP3 and ACC music files and MPEG4 and H.263 video files.

With the launch of Pearl, Levy said, RIM is leaving behind its patent problems and pursuing a direction. “Innovative products with mass appeal are what RIM needs to survive and foster.”

Levy said RIM had recruited about 1,000 new engineers to research and develop new products.

According to global IT industry research firm IDC, BlackBerry leads the US market in smart phones. However, rivals such as the Treo from Palm Inc. and the Q from Motorola Inc. already sport digital cameras and media players. A Taiwanese company is also poised to launch a product squarely aimed at RIM’s BlackBerry.

“Consumers in the market for smart phones with cameras and MP3 players will now have BlackBerry on their shortlist,” said Levy.

Pearl’s camera and media player also have very interesting corporate potential according to Fox. “I can see some insurance adjusters using Pearl to email photos in damage claims cases or perhaps businessmen can dictate notes onto the media player.”

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