RIM's new BlackBerry Torches: Specs are right, but what about the OS?

Both devices' specs are vastly superior to those of the original Torch

The two new BlackBerry Torch models unveiled by RIM today feature impressive specifications, but their success will hinge on how well RIM's new operating system functions.

First, let's go over the specs. The BlackBerry Torch 9810 is modeled after the original Torch released last summer that featured both a 3.2-inch touchscreen display and a slide-out physical keyboard. It's got a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8655 1.2GHz processor, a 640x480 pixel display screen, 8GB of onboard memory, a 5MP camera and 720p HD video capture. The Torch 9850, meanwhile, features many of the same specs but is straight-up touchscreen-only device that has a large 3.7-inch display with a higher resolution of 800x480 pixels.

Needless to say, both devices' specs are vastly superior to those of the original Torch, whose hardware (512MB of onboard memory, 624MHz processor) was woefully inadequate in comparison to the iPhone and the assorted swarm of Android devices that hit the market last year. But impressive specifications alone do not make for a hit device, as RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook demonstrated earlier this year. Sure, the PlayBook had terrific hardware and a beautiful display screen but numerous issues with its functionality, such as the need to connect to another BlackBerry device to access corporate email and a limited number of available applications, diminished its appeal.

RIM is clearly hoping for a fresh start by touting its new BlackBerry OS 7, which will make its debut on the new Torch models and on the BlackBerry Bold 9900 that got its first airing at BlackBerry World earlier this year. One of the big features being added to BlackBerry 7 OS is BlackBerry Balance, a new technology that RIM released this year that allows users and IT departments to erect a firewall between personal and corporate data on devices so that end users have more personal freedom to run their own apps while ensuring that corporate data doesn't get compromised.

Among other things, BlackBerry Balance forbids users from copying and pasting information from an enterprise application into a personal application and restricts corporate data access for social networking applications. Additionally, if an employee is leaving their current company with a device that they personally own that contains corporate data, IT departments can perform remote wipes of enterprise data on the device without affecting users' personal data.

BlackBerry 7 OS features some other key upgrades, such as an updated WebKit-based browser that RIM promises will deliver "browsing results that are up to 40 per cent faster than BlackBerry 6 based smartphones and up to 100 per cent faster than BlackBerry 5 based smartphones." BlackBerry OS 7 features support for both Flash and HTML 5, meaning the new WebKit browser will also have access to all the games and videos that the Web has to offer. Additionally, RIM has integrated a host of applications onto BlackBerry 7 OS, including Documents to Go and BlackBerry Protect, the cloud-based system that RIM developed to back up user data. The new operating system also has near field communications (NFC) connectivity, meaning that BlackBerry devices could soon be used for in-store payments if RIM develops an application similar to Google's new Android-based Google Wallet.

All in all, these new devices seem to offer more promise for RIM's future than last year's Torch or this year's new Bold 9900. Whether RIM can turn that promise into greater market share in the very crowded global smartphone market remains to be seen.

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