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RIM's BlackBerry Bold Is Something To Behold

Source: blackberry.com

It's here! Or almost here. It's the new Research in Motion BlackBerry 9000 Bold, and what a bold step this is. It's been a year since RIM released an update, and during that time, just about every spotlight has turned to the iPhone from Apple with so many experts ceding the market to the upstart touch-screen wonder.

But it's not as if RIM has been sitting around, twiddling its well-used thumbs, and today we finally get to see the fruits of the company's labor. And the Bold is something to behold. I haven't talked to a single person who has seen it, touched it, played with it, whose first reaction wasn't "I want that." And that could be troubling for Apple .

The particulars shape up this way: First, no touch-screen on the Bold as has been widely rumored. Instead, a beautifully rich, half-VGA, 408x380, 65,000 color screen where, I'm told, images jump off the screen. Crackberry.com was the first to review the device and I'd encourage you to head over the site for a look-see. Other notable items: 1Gb of on-board memory with capacity for 16 gigs; wi-fi, Bluetooth, GPS, a 2 megapixel camera, full HTML browsing (like the iPhone), 3.5G and good battery life.

The BlackBerry Bold will be officially unveiled at the big WES expo in Orlando, the year's biggest BlackBerry event, today.

A couple of other things to keep in mind. RIM isn't offering any specifics on release dates, but it should be some time this summer. A source tells me it will be priced competitively with iPhone, probably in the $399 or below range. And, it'll run exclusively on the AT&T network to start, but rolled out on other carriers soon thereafter.

The reason the Bold is so significant is precisely because of the success Apple's iPhone has been enjoying: robust sales against BlackBerry because there really hasn't been a meaningful BlackBerry update in about a year. And over that time, Apple has generated huge headlines.

The storyline goes: Since consumers are in a "think different" kind of mood because of the less-than-successful Microsoft Vista upgrade, consumers who were forced to upgrade computers have been choosing Macs over PCs because they had to buy new computers anyway. Now's as good a time as any to make the switch, right? And the more people change to Macs, the more likely they'll be to pick up other Apple products, including the iPhone. And since there hasn't been a compelling BlackBerry alternative, now's as good a time as any to make the switch.

Trouble for Apple is that, unlike Vista, RIM is indeed offering a compelling alternative to iPhone. The media player and spectacular screen will appeal to consumers and business users alike. The RIM keyboard will give the device the edge over Apple's iPhone for enterprise users as well. Business users who may have been on the fence between the two may lean their way back into the RIM camp with Bold.

If there's one big problem for RIM, it's that the iPhone got a big-time head start on the market, and will release its latest, 3G version of iPhone, with some new bells and whistles, in the coming weeks. When that phone is actually available (a few days after the unveiling would be infinitely better than a few months after its unveiling) will also make a big difference.

Still, several analysts are out this morning with bullish reports on Apple, including Piper Jaffray, which says current iPhone versions are in incredibly short supply lending credence to the June 3G release. And American Technology Research raised its Apple target to $220 from $210, and raised its iPhone shipments to 11 million and 17 million in calendar years 2008 and 2009 respectively, from 7 million and 10 million.

The smart phone market is still a tiny percentage of overall handsets sold, even with the mega numbers RIM and Apple have already racked up. That leads me to believe there's plenty of room in the market, at least for now, for both these companies to enjoy astronomical growth, and for investors in both to reap the rewards.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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