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Tech Report – BlackBerry Torch

How do you know you’re in trouble as a maker of consumer electronics? When surveys suggest that over 50 percent of your current customers will choose a competitive product when it’s time for an upgrade. That’s the problem facing Research In Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry smartphone, and it’s one that they are desperate to overcome.

Given the recent publicity surrounding the iPhone 4, and the launch of a new Android phone seemingly every other week, consumers could be forgiven for thinking that the smartphone market had already evolved into a two-horse race. However, BlackBerry has over 50 million active users and it remains second only to Nokia’s Symbian OS in worldwide popularity.

However, the smartphone market is moving at whirlwind speed and even the loyalty of BlackBerry’s most ardent fans is being severely tested. Market-leading innovations, such as the built-in QWERTY keyboard and the secure e-mail system, are no longer seen as must-haves in a world of high-definition touch-screens and super-fast web browsers.

To combat the drift to the iPhone and other consumer models, BlackBerry has undergone a number of redesigns. Recent models have included the Bold, the Curve, the Tour and the Storm, all of them moving inexorably away from BlackBerry’s roots and towards the thin, glass-faced slabs that are so popular among its competitors.

BlackBerry’s latest offering is the Torch, also known as the BlackBerry 9800. It has both a touch-screen and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and will use the new OS6 operating platform, which RIM claims is a major upgrade over previous versions. The platform includes the new Torch Mobile browser, replacing the old web browser which was often painfully slow and frustrating to use.

The Torch measures 4.4 by 2.4-inches and is 0.6-inches thick. The 3.2-inch screen comes equipped with multi-touch for zooming in and out, which will also be supported in the browser and photo gallery. The Torch has a 5-megapixel camera, featuring flash, autofocus, and geo-tagging, allowing users to name, file and search for pictures based on location.

One area where RIM still has some catching up to do is in the world of apps. While BlackBerry App World – the equivalent of Apple’s App Store or Google’s Android Market – will come pre-installed on the Torch, BlackBerry still lags far behind when it comes to the number of apps. They have around 6,000 compared to Google’s 30,000 and Apple’s 200,000 plus.

While BlackBerry will surely retain many of its fanatically loyal business followers, it remains to be seen whether the Torch can capture a piece of the vitally important consumer market. The Torch will be available August 12 and will cost $199 with a two-year contract from AT&T, the phone’s exclusive U.S. provider.

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