Is BlackBerry taking a leaf out of Apple's book?

The truth isn't out there...
Written by Natasha Lomas, Contributor

The truth isn't out there...

If you thought iPhone nano rumours were hard to avoid, consider the myriad BlackBerry incarnations haunting cyberspace.

First up the BlackBerry KickStart. Leaked images of this frankly ugly flip phone surfaced back in April - as seen here.

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Why anyone would want a flip BlackBerry beats me, after all flipping phones are so retro it's untrue. Even RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie suggested a clam BlackBerry would be an incongruous beast - telling silicon.com back in May: "While you're asking if there's going to be a touch device, why not ask if there's going to be a flip? Has there ever been a successful flip smart phone?"

We're still waiting for an answer to that one but we suspect it's a no.

Yet months from hatching, the BlackBerry KickStart is still buzzing around online refusing to be categorically swatted. Largely because other BlackBerry-flavoured rumours keep arriving to resurrect it.

Cue the BlackBerry Storm, a name which cropped up online in May. Though it has never been entirely clear whether the Storm moniker is merely an alternative nickname for the BlackBerry Bold - a bona fide, true blue BlackBerry - or whether it refers to an altogether new type of RIM smart phone: a touchscreen device.

Which leads to the BlackBerry Thunder.

Apparently this is the name of RIM's touchscreen iPhone killer - as imagined here. Or here. Or at many other locations online.

It certainly seems more plausible than a RIM plunge into flip phones but the company consistently refuses to confirm whether it's seriously working on a touchscreen phone so it's wait-and-see land for now.

The rumours don't stop with Thunder, either.

The latest leaked pictures to crop up online purport to show yet another device, this one named the BlackBerry Javelin (timely Olympic theme), which appears to be a Bold lite, presumably aimed at hurling RIM right into the beating heart of the mass market. You can see the is-it-real-or-isn't-it Javelin in glorious detail in this photo gallery, courtesy of engadget.

So what to make of this rampant RIM rumour fest?

Either the BlackBerry-maker has appalling control over the people who design and manufacture its products - but control that bad is surely more than a tad unbelievable - or else it's sanctioning or at least encouraging carefully timed leaks to create the kind of buzz that Apple generates by simply saying 'no comment' to any whiff of news before the next Jobs keynote.

After all, rumours are cheap. None of these devices actually has to exist to do a job of work for RIM: that is, to get more people talking about its products than otherwise would be.

Moreover, since the launch of Apple's iPhone, RIM has wearily been fielding endless impertinent questions about whether the iPhone is a BlackBerry killer and when we should expect a touchscreen BlackBerry. The company won't comment officially on the touchscreen or indeed on any product rumours. It will only say it is not the source of the rumours.

But one line RIM has been peddling pretty consistently since the start of iPhone era is that Apple's plunge into the mobile world has been 'good for business'.

How exactly, you may ask. Well, the iPhone is great news for BlackBerry because Apple has shown the world that smart phones exist and BlackBerrys are waltzing off the shelves as a result, or so the claim goes.

Here's Charmaine Eggberry, vice president and managing director of EMEA at RIM, speaking to silicon.com earlier this year: "During the time that iPhone was launched we sold more BlackBerrys… because what happened? People suddenly start looking at technology and suddenly understand that it is for them too - I think we've moved well beyond this idea that high tech belongs in the boardroom, belongs to a certain class of individual only… because now that technology is now being adopted by people from all walks of life and it's not all about work."

And here's co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, right on message, also chatting to silicon.com earlier this year: "I think what happened was the amount of marketing and the attention they [Apple] generated in the market - the customers are now coming to the store and saying I didn't know you could do all that with a phone. And when they get there they realise there's a selection - there's not just one device. And so what it's actually done is increased our sales."

So has RIM wised up to the power of hype? Is the BlackBerry-maker taking a leaf out of Apple's book, as it were?

We can only speculate that some or all of these leaks are a cunningly crafted attempt to beat Apple at its own rumour-fuelling game. But one thing is sure: lots of people are now spending time and energy discussing the BlackBerry brand. And that's sure to make RIM smile.

Of course there is a third explanation for the rumour fest.

That there's simply a whole lot of creative scamps out there - with or without their own blogs to pimp - who have nothing better to do than mock up new flavours of BlackBerry. It's a thought.

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