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BlackBerry Bringing The Thunder To Rival iPhone

BlackBerry won't fess up, but rumors of the BlackBerry Thunder, a touch-screen Apple iPhone rival, are swirling.

The Thunder is expected to boom sometime in the third quarter and it will be sold exclusively through Verizon Wireless in the U.S. and Vodafone PLC elsewhere, the Wall Street Journal has reported, quoting RIM insiders.

Despite the reports, a RIM spokesperson Friday said "it's RIM's policy to decline comment on rumors and speculation."

Initial rumors of the BlackBerry Thunder, which some experts are already billing as in iPhone killer, surfaced early this week, fueled mostly by gadget blog the Boy Genius Report (BGR) that posted a photo mockup of the device, which looks eerily similar to the iPhone, especially since BlackBerry's trademark QWERTY keyboard is nowhere to be seen. According to BGR, the Thunder is just a screen with four buttons: send, end, BlackBerry and a back key. BGR also said the Thunder supports 3G -- EV-DO Rev. C -- and GSM HSPA for international use.

The speculation started as BlackBerry held its Wireless Enterprise Symposium 2008 in Orlando, with BlackBerry addicts salivating at the prospect of the device giant unleashing its first ever touch screen. Instead, BlackBerry remained silent on the Thunder and rolled out the BlackBerry Bold, integration with Microsoft Windows Live Hotmail and Messenger and a partnership with IBM for mobile services and Lotus on the go.

The start of the touch-screen BlackBerry rumors started in earnest earlier this year when RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said RIM would consider releasing a touch-screen device if there was customer demand.

A touch-screen device would not only pit BlackBerry head-to-head against Apple's iPhone, which in less than a year has generated a cult-like following, but also a host of other "iPhone clones" that have jumped on the touch-screen bandwagon hoping to unseat the iPhone as the touch-screen gold standard. Recent entrants to the touch-screen craze include HTC's Touch Diamond and the Samsung Instinct released by Sprint at this year's CTIA Wireless conference.

Whether or not BlackBerry's touch-screen dream comes to fruition, as reports indicate, Balsillie has said in the past the RIM doesn't consider the iPhone a serious threat competitively, since most BlackBerry users are equally as loyal to the brand.

Still, a touch-screen BlackBerry device would help RIM continue on its path of blurring the lines between business and consumer devices. The recent additions of the Bold, Curve and Pearl to BlackBerry's roster have solidified that vision by including not only BlackBerry's mobile email and applications that made it widely popular for business users, but also a host of multimedia functions like a camera, video, music player and GPS that give the devices a consumer edge.

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