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RIM is readying a new touchscreen BlackBerry, according to reports, while Android is slowly but surely getting its hooks into Apple's strongest bastion, AT&T. The US carrier will launch its first Android phone from HTC - currently leading the charge against the iPhone's US leadership - next week.

According to The Wall Street Journal, RIM is working on a touchscreen BlackBerry with slide-out keyboard, which will run the next generation of the firm's operating system, BlackBerry OS 6, which was previewed in the spring. This needs to deliver a significant step forward in user and developer experience, areas where RIM has fallen behind - many details, notably of the user interface, are still to emerge, but it does tick some key boxes, such as a new fast HTML5 browser and support for Apple-like on-screen actions like swiping and pinching.

RIM says OS 6 will ship by the end of the third quarter, so presumably the new handset will come after that, in time for the holiday season. It is expected to be accompanied by RIM's first tablet, though this will be a companion device for the BlackBerry rather than a standalone iPad rival. RIM currently has 35% of the US smartphone market, compared to Apple's 28% and Windows Mobile's 19%, and is the only smartphone specialist to figure in the overall handset top five.

HTC is eyeing that position too, riding on the growth of Android, which is expected to gain double-digit smartphone share in the US soon. AT&T will help by launching its second Android handset, the HTC Aria, which looks more like a direct alternative to the iPhone than its first 'Google phone', the lower end (and quirky) Motorola Backflip. The carrier will soon complete a hat trick by offering the Dell Aero, which runs Android and a variation of the oPhone software overlay created for China Mobile. A further two Android phones are expected soon (in January, AT&T said it would have five on its shelves by midyear).

The Aria will be available on Sunday for $130 with a two-year contract (after $100 mail-in rebate). It is a high end phone, though does not have the gigahertz processor of HTC's top end models like Verizon Incredible, Sprint EVO and Desire (which could come to US consumers via either AT&T or TMo soon). However, the Aria does run Android 2.1 and the popular HTC user interface, Sense. This should offer a more appealing experience than the Backflip, which was criticized for using Yahoo as a default search engine and for blocking users from installing apps from outside Android Market (it is not clear whether this will be AT&T's general policy for the OS).

The new handset supports AT&T's recently upgraded 7.2Mbps HSPA network and has a 3.2-inch touchscreen, 5-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi and optical joystick.

Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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