RIM launches first BlackBerry flip phone

TORONTO (Reuters) - Research In Motion Ltd is launching a flip version of its popular BlackBerry Pearl smartphone, a move that reasserts its push into the retail consumer market.

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Like RIM’s original Pearl model, the first-ever flip BlackBerry comes loaded with multimedia features such as a video and music player and a 2-megapixel camera with flash, as well as a Web browser and an abridged keyboard.

“Seventy percent of the mobile phone users in the United States use a flip,” RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said in an interview. “There’s never been a smartphone or a BlackBerry option for that.”

He added the new device is “extremely important” to capturing more retail users.

The new clamshell flip BlackBerry will be available around the world starting this autumn. In the United States, T-Mobile will be the exclusive launch carrier. No pricing details were immediately available.

RIM’s volatile shares jumped early on Wednesday, rising $3.37, or 3.4 percent, to $102.67 on the Nasdaq market. In Toronto, they rose C$4.20 to C$110.23.

The first, candy-bar-shaped version of the Pearl was launched in September 2006 to rave reviews and strong sales. Its success was a key factor behind the Waterloo, Ontario-based company’s ability to deliver banner results throughout the rest of that year and in 2007.

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The Pearl also allowed RIM to broaden its market beyond its mainstay of executives, lawyers, politicians and other professionals who use the BlackBerry to send work e-mail securely.

RIM has more than 16 million subscribers. It says that “non-enterprise” customers -- the company’s term for small and medium businesses and consumers -- now represent more than 40 percent of that total.

The drive for retail consumers has put the company in more direct competition with hardware makers such as Apple and its iPhone, as well as Motorola and Nokia. Balsillie has repeatedly dismissed competitive concerns and they have yet to translate into lower sales.

Despite that, RIM’s shares have lost about a third of their value since setting a year high of $148.13 on the Nasdaq in June.

Most analysts continue to recommend RIM’s shares to investors, according to Reuters Knowledge. Some cite a strong slate of upcoming product launches including the recently unveiled BlackBerry Bold, as well as continuing strong demand for smartphones.

Asked whether the market should expect RIM to launch additional BlackBerry models before the end of the calendar year, Balsillie replied: “We’re far from done.”

($1=$1.07 Canadian)

Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Peter Galloway