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BlackBerry makes a splash with Pearl

Includes 1.3Mp camera and removable storage

RIM has launched the BlackBerry 8100 'Pearl', its smallest and sleekest phone, designed to take push email to consumers.

Weighing only 89g, the Pearl is "100 percent smartphone, and 100 percent BlackBerry", according to Larry Conlee, chief operating officer at RIM. He was speaking at the simultaneous launch in Europe of a device whose main criteria have been size and style, and which is the first BlackBerry with a camera and the first to have removable storage.

News stories and reports, including PC Advisor's sister title Techworld's review, flooded out after the 5am embargo this morning.

While around 700,000 email devices sell each quarter in western Europe, 750 million conventional phones are sold. In this larger market, users choose their device instead of having it imposed by an IT department, so RIM has redesigned the Blackberry to make it more consumer-friendly.

"The biggest growth area is consumer messaging," said Charmaine Eggberry, vice-president and managing director EMEA at RIM. "Sixty percent of users want to spend their cash on it."

To get this, they will increasingly buy smartphones – but only if they can stand alongside conventional feature phones.

"People are starting to crowd round the messaging market," agreed Nick Spencer, analyst at Canalys. "It's a good market, but is a niche market."

To reach the wider market would take something more sleekly designed, and richer in the features of conventional phones. In small businesses, users get more choice over what device they use, said Spencer, with only large powerful IT departments able to force users to carry bulky phones around with them.

"You've got to have a camera and multimedia, and commercial styling," said Larry Conlee, describing the Pearl's design process. To work as a BlackBerry, the device also had to have a large screen and a qwerty keyboard.

To make a device only 14.5mm thick, RIM left out the familiar thumbwheel, adding a glowing trackball. The device uses the SureType technique by which RIM uses predictive text to overlay two qwerty letters to each key. At 1.3Mp, the camera is behind state-of-the-art in feature phones but, RIM contends, good enough to pass muster.

The device should appeal equally in Europe and the US, said Eggberry, at a London launch that flattered the audience as connoisseurs of taste and design. "In Europe, you won't see people with devices on their belt," said Spencer.

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