Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry, is taking on Apple Inc. with a touch-screen phone that puts a new twist on the technology.
RIM is known for its e-mail-oriented phones with large keypads. With the new model being announced Wednesday, the Storm, RIM is for the first time giving up the physical keypad in favor of a large screen, just like the one on Apple’s iPhone.
But RIM has listened to users who find the iPhone’s glass screen awkward to type on because its virtual buttons provide no tactile feedback. The Storm’s whole screen is backed by springs, and when pressed, it gives under the finger.
The long-rumored Storm will be available from Verizon Wireless in the U.S. and from Vodafone Group PLC overseas before the holidays, the companies said. No price has been disclosed yet.
In an unusual twist, the phone will work both on Verizon Wireless’ network and on Vodafone’s, even though they use incompatible technologies. Like a few other Verizon Wireless handsets before it, the Storm will be equipped with radios to handle both networks, making international roaming a possibility. The iPhone, carried by AT&T Inc. in the U.S., can already roam internationally.
The addition of a touch-screen phone to the BlackBerry lineup, the mainstay of e-mail-addicted executives and managers, is a testament to the effect of the iPhone. RIM’s share of the U.S. smart-phone market has stayed above 50 percent, but the iPhone has clearly helped expand that market.
Over the last year, technology buyers at large corporations have found their employees demanding a touch-screen phone, said Mike Lanman, chief marketing officer of Verizon Wireless.
“Everybody eventually leaves work … and becomes a person,” Lanman said.
The iPhone’s facility with Web browsing and movie playing are big reasons for its appeal. The Storm will initially lack an equivalent of Apple’s iTunes movie store, though shorter clips will be available through Verizon Wireless’ VCast service.
As a Web browser, the Storm more closely emulates the desktop experience than the iPhone does. That’s because the screen can distinguish between light touches and firm presses. A light touch can move around a cursor, while a firm press activates a link, much like moving a mouse cursor has a different effect from clicking a mouse button, said Mike Lazaridis, RIM’s co-chief executive.
Verizon Wireless is the last of the four national U.S. brands to unveil a flagship touch-screen model. AT&T has the iPhone, Sprint Nextel Corp. sells the Samsung Instinct, and T-Mobile USA just announced the G1, the first phone to run Google Inc.’s software. Verizon Wireless does have other touch-screen phones in its lineup, but none that it has promoted with as much vigor as other carriers have.