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RIM preps new products: Can it reclaim smartphone leadership?

Research in Motion and AT&T on Tuesday are expected to unveil a slider device armed with the latest BlackBerry operating system. Can RIM reclaim the upper hand in smartphones?

Research in Motion and AT&T on Tuesday are expected to unveil a slider device armed with the latest BlackBerry operating system. Can RIM reclaim the upper hand in smartphones?

RIM's event is expected to be the kick off for two new devices over the next few months. The first is a slider phone that has been long-rumored and leaked. These devices are expected to land in August and September. Analysts say that if the devices launch August 15, RIM may be able to top its August quarter guidance for 11.6 million to 12 million devices.

To say Tuesday marks the beginning of RIM's most critical product launches ever may be a bit of an understatement.

It remains to be seen whether RIM can maintain momentum with a never-ending stream of Android devices (HTC Evo, Incredible, Motorola's Droid X) and Apple's iPhone 4. RIM is launching new phones amid tough competition. Toss in the fourth quarter launch of Windows Phone 7 devices and it's a crowded field.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Sanjiv Wadhwani said developers may be the key to RIM's success. He said in a research note:

We believe developer/app support will be important to ensure a successful introduction of the new OS. Early developer support could help boost consumer confidence in the device/platform.

In recent interviews, RIM executives have said that the company has been courting developers. The game plan: Make it easier for developers to create apps for the BlackBerry and offer multimedia via Adobe's Flash platform.

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The problem: Developers have already flocked to the iPhone and Android platforms. RIM is playing catch up on multiple fronts. Caris & Co. analyst Robert Cihra sums it up:

In a world of iPhones and Android, RIMM can’t be seen as still selling typewriters. With smartphones all about software and UI, RIM completely rebuilt its web browser using the same open-source WebKit layout/rendering engine as iPhone/Safari and Android/Chrome, and given the importance of touchscreens, needed a UI rewritten expressly for touch, as opposed to just jamming its legacy keyboard/cursor-based OS into the Storm.

Nevertheless, RIM's latest device, which aims to combine a QWERTY keyboard with a touch screen, could be the ultimate BlackBerry. If RIM can keep current customers in the fold and happy, it can maintain its enterprise dominance and perhaps just enough momentum to compete with the Android/iPhone onslaught. In addition, a successful launch Tuesday may help RIM rebound from its mixed April quarter.

Will a slider device and new OS be enough for RIM to beat back the competition?

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