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BlackBerry Readies iPhone Challenge

Research In Motion Ltd. plans to release a bevy of new BlackBerry devices, a delayed effort to reinvigorate its flagging brand and claw back some of the market share it has hemorrhaged in North America.

Early Wednesday, RIM rolled out five new smartphones, including its first all-touch screen phone. RIM executives said the phones will be available in stores world-wide within weeks, offered by more than 200 carriers.

But it’s unclear the new devices will be able to deliver the sort of buzz—and sales—that will help BlackBerry catch up quickly to offerings by Apple Inc. and Google Inc. RIM, which once dominated the sector, has taken more than a year to release a new model and is now a distant third place in North America.

The Canadian company’s stock has fallen 68% year-to-date and on Tuesday closed at $24.15—near its 52-week low.

RIM has acknowledged that delays in launching the new phones have kept them out of some carriers’ back-to-school programs, which will cost the company sales.

The new BlackBerrys also won’t be running the company’s recently acquired operating system, QNX. The company has bet its future on the new software, but QNX phones won’t be ready until next year. Instead, the new models will run on an update to RIM’s existing BlackBerry software.

RIM bought QNX last year, betting a major overhaul of its legacy software would help its phones compete better with faster video and other features. But QNX phones won’t be ready until early next year.

Customers may hold back on the new BlackBerrys, if they know the QNX phones are right around the corner, some analysts say. RIM executives characterize the new phones as a good bridge for consumers ahead of the QNX roll-out next year.

“We’re delivering an enhanced experience, and we’ll enhance it again when the time comes,” said Patrick Spence, RIM’s managing director for global sales and regional marketing, in an interview.

Meanwhile, Apple is expected to roll out an updated iPhone this fall, and a number of new phones with Google’s Android software are on the way, including models that will work on U.S. carriers’ fast, new 4G networks.

Consumers have shifted away from BlackBerry in favor of Apple and Android’s more innovative, consumer-friendly devices.


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