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CIO - It's no secret that Research In Motion (RIM) is experimenting with new form factors for its BlackBerry smartphones. The company released a variety of BlackBerry devices during the past couple of years, with new and different hardware designs, including the first BlackBerry "clamshell" device, the Pearl Flip 82xx; two touch-screen BlackBerrys, the Storm and Storm2; and RIM finally did away with its pesky "trackball" for navigation and swapped it out with a much-improved "trackpad."
Based on a few new images posted on Twitter this week, RIM's next BlackBerry-hardware evolution could very well be a "candy-bar"-style BlackBerry with both a SurePress display like the ones found on RIM's Storm and Storm2 handhelds and the revered full QWERTY, "physical" keyboard that has helped make RIM the company it is today.
Rumors of such a device aren't exactly new--I posted about some related noisemore than a year and a half ago--but these images, posted by @CellGuru on Twitter, certainly are. However, the pictured device itself appears to be an early prototype of a BlackBerry codenamed either "Dakota" or "Magnum." (Early rumors suggested one of these mystery BlackBerrys had both a touch-screen and a traditional BlackBerry keyboard [Magnum] and the other had a touch-display and a slider keyboard [Dakota].)
The point: You shouldn't expect to see this exact handheld on store shelves any time soon. RIM, like all hardware-makers, very likely produces LOTS of device prototypes that never make it out of the labs at Waterloo--or wherever else the company tests new handhelds. But the images are very likely a sign of (hopefully) good things to come from the BlackBerry-maker.
A number of factors suggest the pictured prototype-device is at least a year old. First off, it looks almost exactly like RIM's BlackBerry Bold 9000--inside and out--except for the obvious lack of a trackball, which suggests it was made around the same time as the original Bold 9000. RIM first unveiled the Boldback in May 2008, so this prototype was probably produced in late 2008 or early 2009.
The prototype device also features RIM's old phone symbols on both the "Send" and "End" keys, which means it was probably made before the latest generation of BlackBerry smartphones, which all have "sleeker" Send and End symbols. And it's worth noting that none of the new pictures show the device with a functioning OS, so it's unclear if one is even installed.
One notable different between the pictured device prototype and Bold 9000 is that the unreleased handheld has a micro USB port compared to the Bold's mini USB port. All of RIM's latest devices use micro USB, so the touch-screen/QWERTY hybrid was probably built a few months after the Bold's U.S release, sometime in early 2009.
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I, for one, am very excited about the possibility of a touch-screen BlackBerry/QWERTY-hybrid from RIM. It's clear the mobile-market is having some kind of love-affair with touch-screen devices--think: iPhone, DROID, Pre, Nexus One and on and on. RIM hasn't quite nailed the touch-display yet, but I think it's well on its way. And the company's keyboard is its true "bread-and-butter" so to speak, so a hybrid like the one pictured could offer BlackBerry users the best of both worlds.