Weeks after introducing new high-end smartphones, Research In Motion announced three new BlackBerry Curve devices Tuesday. All three handsets share the same hardware components, which are improvements over the prior Curve models, but lag behind the latest Bold and Torch upgrades. The new Curve 9350, 9360, and 9370 handsets will likely appeal to texting teens as RIM says the phones are focused on those looking for a simple, inexpensive, socially connected handset.
The company hasn’t announced pricing, although based on the specifications, and the Curve branding, which has always been a value line for RIM, I’d expect the costs to be $100 or less with a carrier contract. RIM says carrier partners will announce prices, and the new phones will launch in Canada this month, then around the world next month. Here’s a breakdown of the line’s hardware, functions and capabilities:
- 800 MHz CPU
- 2.44-inch HVGA (480×320 resolution) display
- BlackBerry 7 OS
- Near-field communication (NFC) support
- 512 MB of storage memory; microSD card slot for up to 32 GB additional storage
- 5-megapixel camera with flash, image stabilization, face detection, digital zoom, VGA video capture
- 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, aGPS, Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR
Essentially, the new Curves are geared for those who don’t need the highest-tier smartphone available, but still want some top-level smartphone features: namely first-time smartphone buyers, existing Curve owners looking for an upgrade, and — thanks to the BlackBerry keyboard and BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service — social teens. In addition to BBM and standard texting, RIM has been touting its apps for Facebook (which includes Facebook Chat support) and Twitter of late. RIM also highlights Social Feeds integration in the press release for the Curves; the app aggregates updates from Facebook, Myspace, and Google Talk as well as news from RSS feeds.
The inclusion of NFC is an interesting one, because the short-range wireless technology — typically associated with mobile payments — hasn’t yet caught on with consumers or many device makers. Adding it to a low-end or mid-market device could drive NFC adoption, and as we’ll be discussing at our Mobilize event next month, could help make this the year that NFC goes mainstream.
With versions of the new Curve supporting GSM and CDMA networks, it’s a safe bet that all four major U.S. carriers will pick up the new device. The version with support for T-Mobile’s 3G frequency also includes UMA support for voice calls over Wi-Fi. Sprint has already jumped on the Curve, confirming my thoughts on the pricing on Tuesday. Sprint will offer the Curve 9350 for $79 after contract and a $50 mail-in rebate, starting on Sept. 9.
At that price point, the new Curve handsets could give low-end smartphones running Android a solid run for their money. If they do, and RIM can gain some traction in the first-time smartphone buyer and teen market, it would have a captive audience of potential upgraders ready to step up once the company delivers its first QNX-powered smartphones.