TORONTO BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is launching a new version of its touchscreen Storm smartphone, marking its latest move in the fight with Apple's iPhone.
The Storm2, as the device is known, is "a biggie for us," RIM co-Chief Executive Jim Balsillie said in an interview.
The smartphone retains the original Storm's clickable touchscreen interface, but improves upon it with faster typing and "multitouch" capabilities, which allow users to type on more than just one part of the screen at a time.
The phone is enabled for next-generation networks and also has Wi-Fi capability like some of the other devices in the BlackBerry lineup.
Mobile communications giant Vodafone announced on Thursday that the Storm2 will be available in time for the Christmas gift buying season in seven European countries and South Africa.
RIM's announcement was not a complete surprise: Balsillie first said in May that a new version of the Storm was in the works, given the "huge success" of the original smartphone.
UBS Investment Research analyst Phillip Huang said he thinks the Vodafone announcement is already largely embedded in expectations. He expects U.S. carrier Verizon to announce the Storm2 for the holiday season as well.
"We expect launches for Bold2 by U.S. and Canadian operators in late October," in addition to the Storm2, Huang wrote in a note to clients. The BlackBerry Bold is a high-end handset aimed at RIM's base of professional users.
The Storm2 news comes as Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM finds itself in increased competition with the iPhone.
Apple is expanding its smartphone's availability by offering it to a bigger number of wireless carriers. This means RIM has found itself forced to fight for previously uncontested territory.
For example, until recently, Rogers Communications was the only large Canadian carrier that offered the iPhone. However, BCE Inc and Telus Corp -- the country's other two main telecom companies -- announced earlier this month they will be able to offer the device in November.
Balsillie said the Storm2 will be key to maintaining RIM's growth in the retail consumer market, which it is increasingly emphasizing as it expands from its core base of business, government and other professional users.
"Obviously, we want to maintain and extend our leadership, there's no question," he said.
Late last month, RIM reported results and an outlook that disappointed investors and sent its shares tumbling more than 15 percent.
Analysts said increased competition in North America from the likes of Apple, Palm and Motorola Inc was a top concern for RIM's future.
New BlackBerry models are crucial if RIM is to succeed and Balsillie said the company is well prepared.
"We have a really rich (product) road map ... and we aren't slowing down," he said.
RIM's shares were down 1.1 percent at $68.43 on Nasdaq and off 0.8 percent at C$70.47 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
(Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Rob Wilson)