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Summary:

When Research In Motion bought Torch Mobile last year, we knew that a WebKit browser for BlackBerry had to be coming soon. It’s still “coming soon” — sometime this year — and RIM needs to hurry. Email and a good keyboard alone aren’t enough any longer.

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It’s sort of a non-news bit of news, but today at Mobile World Congress, Research In Motion announced that its BlackBerry devices will enjoy a WebKit browser sometime this year. Why isn’t that very newsy? Well, if you’ve followed the RIM acquistion of Torch Mobile last year, then you pretty much already knew this. Torch Mobile used to make a WebKit-based browser for Windows Mobile devices, but no longer does. The company resources are devoted to bringing the browser to BlackBerry handsets instead. WebKit is already used as the basis of browsers for Apple’s iPhone, Google Android devices, and Palm’s webOS handsets, so RIM plans to bring a similar mobile web experience in-house.

Having used the WebKit browser on all three devices mentioned, my experience is that it generally does offer the best mobile experience to the masses. The lone outlier could be the Mozilla-based browsers on the Nokia N900 — the native microB and the new Firefox for Maemo —  but I don’t consider the N900 a “device for the masses.” They’re both exceptional browsers, but the device itself is better suited for true mobile enthusiasts. Other solid alternatives on the market include the various Opera products, SkyFire and other server-side rendering clients. But the browser on a BlackBerry never really got me excited and I don’t see other companies trying to emulate RIM’s browser experience. It’s definitely the other way around as evidenced by this CrackBerry.com first look video of WebKit on a BlackBerry.

Although Research In Motion isn’t sharing details on the timing for their new browser, I think they have to deliver it this year and sooner is better than later. By some measurements, RIM is starting to lose market share to other platforms that are innovating and maturing faster. I’d be the first to say that RIM has made a very successful transition from an enterprise-centric brand to one that appeals to consumers as well. But as that transition completes, the company needs to continue forward momentum with features that keep it on par with competitors. Email might be the crown jewel for RIM’s BlackBerry devices — they’re among the best for mail management — but the mobile web is becoming at least as important, if not more so. A new WebKit browser is just what the doctor ordered for preventative market share care. How quickly the prescription is filled is up to RIM.

Image courtesy of Unwired View

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  1. Hopefully a capacitive muli-touch screen will be incorporated in new blackberrys this year. Along with the webkit browser.

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  2. This isn’t really a me-too implementation. Like push email, web browsing will be supported by BIS infrastructure, using proxies.

    It may have taken them long to put in webKit, but unlike Google,
    Apple and Palm that just throw on a desktop class browser without regard to battery life and bandwidth, RIM is doing it right.

    RIM does things slower, but better. Putting a computer in your pocket is not the challenge, it’s the cost and trade-offs involved.

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  3. I’m on my second RIM device, but the fact that everyone I know has a full featured browser in their phone, and mine is both slower and worse at showing web pages, is getting old. If something hasn’t changed in a big way by this summer/fall, my next upgrade is going to be to another platform.

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  4. Yeah, I have to use one of those Crackberries from work but I also have my own iPhone. No comparison, the Blackberry is one of the worst browser phones on the planet, they just don’t understand the web at all. RIM has a foothold in corporate data center because those company IT freaks move slower than molasses uphill on christmas at adopting cutting edge relavent-today technology. If we got rid of company IT departments the productivity of the Fortune 500 companies would go up at least 30 percent instantly imo, all they do is restrict resources and stick the employees with outdated mobile tech. Android and iPhone should have taken over corporate IT months ago but they resist because they know not what they do…it’s called incompetence and it is rampant in the American data center.

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  5. @SISTAH GIRL
    I agree that IT departments can be slow to incorporate new technology. Some IT departments are better than others. To play devils advocate though, there is a legit reason for them to be hesitant to adopt new mobile technology.

    Security/Privacy

    When you work at a corporation where information is classified, the data needs to be controlled heavily. Meaning IT needs to be in complete control and have a full understanding of the security. That is hard to adapt when Android, Webos, Iphone have a upgrade every few months, and then a major upgrade atleast once a year.(Also, the ever increasing amount of mobile operating systems)

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  6. Sweet!!! I think this will def gain some brownie points with the top exec and corp users. Now they can whine a little bit less about how their kids’ iPhone looks so much cooler

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  7. The sheer awfulness of RIM’s current browser has probably benefited the Company’s reputation until most recently.
    Realizing the browsers considerable drawbacks, Blackberry users I know hardly ever bother to connect to the net as often or as long as, say, as many of those with iPhones – the end result being that RIM’s servers are not stretched to capacity to deal with what should be ‘normal’ internet use. The upshot of this is that, for many, Blackberrys appear fast for basic data tasks and, in combination with RIM’s compression techniques, the user’s data use is much less than other smartphone users with better browsers.

    But it seems users are willing on forgoing these ‘benefits’ for a browser experience that works as expected. And maybe includes the ability to use one browser connection to access home/home/public hotspots, without manual configuration?

    The new browser is more than welcome. Let’s just hope RIM can keep up with its possible drag on its network.

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