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RIM plans next-gen Storm as it eyes untapped market

TORONTO (Reuters) - Research In Motion is planning a next-generation version of its touchscreen BlackBerry Storm smartphone as part of a continuing push into the retail market, its co-CEO said on Monday.

Jim Balsillie, co-chief executive of Research In Motion (RIM), holds a Blackberry Bold handset in Mumbai September 18, 2008. REUTERS/Punit

“We see this very large and untapped consumer market,” Jim Balsillie said during a presentation to analysts and investors, adding that more than half of RIM’s 25 million subscribers now fall into the non-corporate category.

Asked about whether the Storm -- which debuted to mixed media reviews last year -- has been a hit, Balsillie said “that product was a huge success in terms of sales and adoption.”

The Storm was seen by many analysts as RIM’s direct answer to Apple’s popular iPhone, which is also a touch-screen device.

Balsillie said Storm sales remain strong and added “we have next-generation devices with that and the whole roadmap.”

Success of individual handsets is crucial to RIM, especially as it pushes deeper into the retail market, where consumer tastes can be fickle. The potential market is huge. After all, every mobile phone user can theoretically be turned into a smartphone user. Retail is also a good way for RIM to diversify its user base.

The latest data shows RIM is doing well: market research firm NPD Group reported on Monday that the company’s BlackBerry Curve moved past the iPhone to become the best-selling consumer smartphone in the U.S. in the first quarter.

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“There are many ways to address the consumer market and RIM ... needs to go after consumers,” said Duncan Stewart, an analyst at DSAM Consulting in Toronto.

The company has stacked its product line-up with consumer friendly handsets like the Storm and the BlackBerry Pearl and loaded them up with multimedia features like photo management software and music players.

Stewart added he would be “stunned” if RIM chose not to build on the sales momentum of the Storm and roll out another touchscreen device.

At the same time, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company has been careful to remain faithful and responsive to the executives, politicians, lawyers and other professional clients who have been its mainstay.

This “enterprise” market -- made up mostly of large corporations and government departments -- also continues to grow, Balsillie said in his presentation.

BlackBerry coverage now extends to 475 wireless carriers and distribution partners in about 160 countries. The company grew its revenue in its last quarter by 84 percent to $3.46 billion.

Last month, RIM offered a rosy outlook that signaled further growth, despite the global economic slowdown. Analysts had previously said companies could cut their telecom budgets and consumers could tighten their purse strings amid the recession, which could spell slower sales for RIM.

This has failed to materialize as the company’s results last month topped analyst expectations.

RIM’s shares were up 3.2 percent at $74.62 on Nasdaq on Monday and ahead 2.6 percent at C$88.00 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

($1=$1.18 Canadian)

Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Frank McGurty