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RIM Buys Torch Mobile: Closing the Gap on Mobile Safari?

iris_browser Canadian company Research In Motion (s rim), maker of the ubiquitous BlackBerry, has bought software developers (and webkit aficionados) Torch Mobile, according to a report today over on Engadget.

No, I’ve never heard of Torch Mobile, either.

But according to the company’s web site, it is “excited to announce” that the company has been acquired by RIM, “one of the most renowned mobile technology companies in the world.” It looks like a play by RIM to improve the Internet side of its mobile devices.

Torch Mobile is the developer of, among other things, the Iris browser, which, like Safari, is based on the webkit rendering engine. Torch describes Iris as:

“…an advanced, high-performance and versatile application that is specifically designed to function in resource-constrained environments. It brings the full Web experience to mobile phones, set-top boxes, mobile Internet devices, portable media players, Ultra-Mobile PCs and other embedded devices — in a fast and user-friendly manner.”

This is great news for BlackBerry owners. That smartphone might be great at handling email (well, that’s a matter of opinion — I’ve owned two BlackBerry devices in my time and still think email is better on my iPhone) but the browser RIM has been pushing on its customers is horrible, just horrible.

Since Iris is based on the same core engine as mobile Safari, if it is ultimately subsumed into upcoming BlackBerry models, we can expect those diminutive email machines to become a bit more capable as all-round mobile Internet devices. Plus, RIM gets to add a new string to its bow, which should please Bono.

Iris is currently limited to Windows Mobile and devices running the Nokia-owned Qt Extended (formally Qtopia) operating system (a flavor of Embedded Linux).

Closing the gap on the iPhone’s superb web browser is surely the aim of every mobile device maker; after all, the iPhone is unarguably the king of the mobile Internet. In its April report, AdMob revealed that a full 43 percent of worldwide smartphone web requests were made on the iPhone and iPod Touch. In North America, the figure was as high as 59 percent. By June, those figures had grown to 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively.

Safari smartphone requests June

For any mobile device manufacturer, it’s difficult to honestly claim an elegant and worthwhile browsing experience without at least matching the power and usability of mobile Safari. So perhaps next year, when Apple is announcing its latest and greatest iPhone, RIM will be in a position to (finally!) offer its customers an experience similar to the one iPhone users first had three years earlier. Coming to the party late is better than not coming at all, right?

5 Responses to “RIM Buys Torch Mobile: Closing the Gap on Mobile Safari?”

  1. That’s nice to hear because unless blackberry can offer that and a big enough screen to make use of it with an added actual full keyboard that’s not a touch screen clicky one I don’t see myself getting another blackberry again… I’m loving my iPhone 3G S right now and don’t plan on buying another blackberry till they make something as good with an actual keyboard.