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BlackBerry spawns mobile phone

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Blackberry attempted to shake off its reputation as a maker of rather dull email devices by the launch of a real telephone, or at least, a close approximation thereof.

The Blackberry Pearl was launched today and comes with a digital camera (1.3 mega pixel), an MP3 player, and can even play back MPEG4 video files.

While keen to appeal outside the large companies which make up Blackberry's traditional market, the support of central management (including the ability to disable the camera and removable memory) should ensure that it can still sell to their more corporate customers.

Text entry is accomplished with SureType; like predictive text but with the letters in QWERTY order, and a trackball is used for application control. The normal networking technologies are supported, including GSM, EDGE, and Bluetooth.

The phone looks OK, and the multimedia capabilities are pretty average by today's standards, but the real question is if the Blackberry brand will be enough to sell it.

Blackberry devices have always been sold on their push email capabilities, and up to now most users have had a separate phone for voice calls. But with the majority of manufacturers and networks now offering push capabilities (often licensed from Blackberry), Blackberry is having to find other ways to differentiate its products.

SureType is a good example of this, and might appeal to users obsessed with replicating their desktop keyboard. But handset manufacture is a very competitive business and it won't be easy for a company as small as Blackberry to achieve sufficient scale to keep costs competitive.

The Pearl won't be available in Europe until October, by which time its technical specifications will be even more out of date as the other manufacturers roll out their Christmas products. ®

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