lead research analyst, mobile and personal computing technology, IDC Canada

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Recent legal setbacks suffered by Research In Motion (RIM) of Waterloo, Ont. appear to have left the converged handheld device market ripe for picking.

Finnish phone maker Nokia Corp., will soon be shipping to Canadian shores a full keyboard smartphone aimed at luring away users of the popular RIM BlackBerry.This is the first (Nokia product) that truly replicates the BlackBerry.Eddie Chan>Text

Early this month, Nokia began rolling out its E61 smartphones in Europe as part of a plan to gain a larger share of the lucrative corporate market. The model is expected to be released in North America later this year.

Key elements of the unit are its e-mail functions, a full HyperText Markup Language (HTML) web browser and its wireless local area network (WiLAN) and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) capability, according to Tejas Rao, director of technology for Nokia Canada based in Markham.

“In terms of form and function it’s very similar to RIM – and because it runs on the Symbian operating system, it actually supports BlackBerry users,” said Rao.

“This is the first (Nokia product) that truly replicates the BlackBerry,” said Eddie Chan, lead research analyst for mobile and personal computing technology at IDC Canada. “Nokia has largely been a consumer play, but this signals a move into the enterprise segment of the converged mobile device market.”

He said previous Nokia offerings received “lukewarm” reception because the design was not attuned to the market. For instance, models like the Communicator 9290, 9300 and 9500 required “the traditional all fingers on keyboard approach.”

“They basically used a clamshell design. You had to have all fingers on the keyboard as opposed to the integrated QWERTY keyboard of the BlackBerry, which you could operate with your thumbs only,” said Chan.

But the E61 is packed with “highly desirable” features to enable it to compete with models from top mobile device makers RIM and Palm Inc.

“It’s got a lot of next generation features,” said Rao.

Companies that already have BlackBerries deployed can use the E61 because the Symbian operating system allows it to communicate with the RIM devices.

Chan said the E61 will be “priced very aggressively” in North America but added that other features aside from price point have to be considered. “Buyers have to be convinced about the unit’s security features, messaging platform and battery life.”

Chan said the converged mobile device enterprise market is “still very young” and has a lot of room for new players. The E61 “offers users yet another choice in the growing array of devices.”

The release of E61 comes just weeks after RIM narrowly escaped being shut down by a lawsuit brought by Arlington, Va.-based NTP Inc. RIM was recently slapped anew by another suit filed by Visto Corp., a software provider based in Redwoodshores, Calif.

In complaints filed before the US District Court of the Eastern District of Texas, Visto said RIM violates four Visto patents. The lawsuit does not seek monetary compensation but demands that the court shut down BlackBerry service in the US.

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