Research in Motion developing tablet device to rival iPad

Canadian manufacturer Research in Motion is said to be developing a new tablet device and a touchscreen smartphone to accompany its BlackBerry range of handsets in order to recover market share lost to the Apple iPhone.

The reports come as Apple has broken into the tablet computing market in a big way, recording two million iPad sales in two months and snatching 22% of the eBooks market.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that RIM is currently investigating a number of different touchscreen-based devices in order to catch up to Apple.

According to “people familiar with the device”, the new smartphone will run on a new version of the BlackBerry operating system, while its touchscreen interface is said to be similar to the iPhone’s.

Additionally, RIM is apparently experimenting with a tablet device that will act as a “larger-screen companion” to the smaller BlackBerry handsets. While the gadget is reportedly in a very early stage of development, it is understood the device will sync to 3G networks through the BlackBerry handset.

These reports even suggest the device could be out by the end of the year. RIM has previously confirmed a new handset will be out in the Australian Spring, but no other details have been provided.

The rumours are surprising, especially after an RIM executive said last year that the company has no plans to release a tablet device.

CrackBerry reported earlier this year it had received word from Asian manufacturers that RIM was working on a tablet device, but it was the only publication to suggest such a gadget was being developed.

However, the decision to introduce a tablet wouldn’t be a surprise. RIM and Apple have gone head to head over control of the business market with their respective handsets.

While the company maintains a worldwide 19% market share, according to Strategy Analytics, that number is slipping in the US as more users switch to iPhones. The company’s share of North American smartphone shipments dropped to 38% in the March quarter from 54% in the same quarter in 2009.

Users are becoming more accustomed to touchscreen technology, while the BlackBerry devices rely on QWERTY-style keyboards.

Additionally, while the company has introduced an App Store for its devices, many of these programs are expensive and the number of programs available trails far behind Apple’s marketplace with just 7,000 apps.

It is understood the new mobile handset will be designed for touchscreen inputs, along with a traditional QWERTY keyboard so new users can slowly become used to the new interface.

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