BlackBerry Torch being passed to Canada this year

Research in Motion’s (RIM) new BlackBerry 9800 Torch phone and BlackBerry 6 OSwill be in Canada later this year – after launching south of the border first with AT&T.

RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis took to the same stage as AT&T’s president and CEO of mobility and consumer markets Ralph de la Vega to unveil the first device to come with the new OS pre-installed. The U.S. carrier has a deal with RIM to be the sole purveyor of the Torch and will start selling it Aug. 12.

Canadians will see the device “later this year”, according to carriers. There will be no similar carrier agreement here, as both Rogers Wireless and Telus Mobility confirmed they’d eventually carry the Torch. Neither gave a release date, and Bell Mobility made no comment about the device.

It’s encouraging to see Canadians will have a choice of networks for the new BlackBerry, says Derek Silva, research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group. But it’s still a slight that the Waterloo, Ont-.based manufacturer didn’t debut the device in Canada at the same time.

“When you do have a huge Canadian following and you do have a Canadian headquarters… why not have a launch date on the same day or somewhere near the U.S. date?” he says. “It’s a bit of a jab.”

BlackBerry 6 appears to be an effort by RIM to strike a balance between offering familiarity to its core of business users and serving up features that consumers appreciate too. Where older versions of the OS offered text list menus, the new OS offers an array of graphical icons. Where the older version boasted communications and security features, the new version trumpets multimedia features.

More coverage: BlackBerry 6 packs seven awesome multimedia features

RIM seems to have picked up a couple tricks from the iPhone, offering a capacitive touch screen with “pinch to zoom” features and a revamped WebKit-based browser. Apple’s Safari browser on iOS is also WebKit-based.

RIM has been losing some market share to Apple Inc. recently, according to research firm IDC. Its share fell from 20.9 per cent to 19.4 per cent in the first quarter of this year, while Apple’s share rose from 16.1 per cent to 10.9 per cent.

BlackBerry phones must also compete with Google’s Android-based smartphones and a bevy of other devices on the market. While its focus has been on helping business users get work done, it can no longer afford to ignore consumer demands, Silva says.

“If they don’t get a lot of traction on the consumer side, they’re going to lose corporate customers as well,” he says. “The corporate standard isn’t the de facto standard anymore – it’s whatever the employees bring to work.”

BlackBerry Torch features at a glance

Size and weight: 4.37″ tall by 2.44″ wide when closed, expands to 5.83″ tall, always 0.57″ slim

Display: 3.2″ HVGA capacitive touch screen with 480×360 resolution

Memory: 512 MB flash memory, 4 GB internal storage, up to 32 GB SD card external supported

Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS

Battery life: 1300 mAHr removable li-on battery supports up to 5.5 hours talk time on 3G networks

Camera: 5 MP, continuous auto-focus, image stabilization, flash, VGA 640×480 video recording

Business users should be happy

Reaction to BlackBerry’s Torch was mixed on social media. Some suggested the phone would be a strong contender on the market, while others described it as already dated.

“Oh RIM, your slide towards irrelevancy is happening faster than even I would have thought,” wrote Vancouver-based Web developer in a Twitter message. “You new phone isn’t helping.”

Morrison waited in line for 24 hours for the July 30 iPhone 4 launch, completing digital work to raise money for charity at the same time.

There are several features that are a boon for business users, Silva says. Torch supports latest Wi-Fi standard 802.11n, which is now being deployed at many offices.

“It is much faster and much more secure than b or g networks,” Silva says.

A universal search feature that allows users to search through contacts, e-mail and the Web at the same time is another highlight, the analyst adds. As is a built-in RSS reader.

But the OS could have benefitted from a more thorough facelift.

“There’s probably some areas for improvement where they could have taken a bigger leap and given a little bit more of a wow factor,” he says.

BlackBerry 6 will run on some devices already on the market, according to RIM. Users can expect to upgrade their BlackBerry Bold 9700, BlackBerry Bold 9650, and Pearl 3G phones.

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