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Can RIM play its cards right?

After a year of getting was decked by Apple and Google, the BlackBerry manufacturer appears to have a few aces up its sleeve yet. With the aim of impressing its core audience of business users, it’s rolling out new models — including a BlackBerry Curve-like phone that sports a touch screen running on the latest BlackBerry 6.1 operating system, according to a series of reports by tech blog BGR.

But are they enough to keep Research in Motion winning in the broader smartphone market?

Research In Motion, the Canadian smartphone giant, has long held a strong hand with enterprise users with its BlackBerry phones. The phones sync up with corporate email accounts pretty seamlessly and the BlackBerry Messenger app is one of the crown jewels in Research In Motion’s software setup. The phone has started to see a little bit of competition from the iPhone and some devices running Google’s Android mobile operating system — but they are still a long ways out.

One of Research in Motion’s newest phones, the Dakota, is a good shot at staying in control of that space, based on leaked specs. It essentially fills the same form factor that the classic BlackBerry had, but now sports a touch screen.

Ted Livingston, a former BlackBerry strategist who’s now CEO of Kik, a messaging startup, said it pushes all the right buttons. (It’s a good bit of praise coming from Livingston, seeing as his former company has been trying to sue his pants off and block Kik Messenger from the BlackBerry application marketplace.)

“I think it could be very successful — nails the form factor (in my opinion with the keyboard and touchscreen), and looks good. (The BlackBerry operating system) is still weak, but I think that’s OK until (QNX operating system) arrives,” Livingston told VentureBeat in an email.

The guts aren’t so bad either — there aren’t any details as to whether it’s a single-core or dual-core processor, but it has 768MB of RAM. The iPhone 4, by comparison, has 512MB of RAM. The Dakota has a 5-megapixel camera and can shoot HD-quality video, has a magnetometer and accelerometer and pretty much all the other bells and whistles that are now standard with smartphones. The Dakota can also serve as a mobile 3G hotspot.

But even with a touchscreen, the phone is still held back by weaker screen resolution. The Dakota sports a 640 by 480 pixel resolution on its 2.8-inch screen. Compare that to the iPhone 4’s display, which has a 960 by 640 pixels. Most popular Android phones, like the Droid X, have an 854 by 480 pixel resolution screen. So the phone isn’t going to look as sharp as the rest of the smartphones on the market.

That’s where Research In Motion has traditionally underachieved — the consumer space that Android and the iPhone have made significant pushes to control. The BlackBerry line — outside of its clumsy Storm phones — lacked a touchscreen and keyboard combination before the arrival of the BlackBerry Torch. While the Torch was not that bad of a phone, it was pretty underpowered when compared to the other phones on the market.

Research in Motion is updating the Torch as well with some beefier guts — including a single-core 1.2 Ghz processor and 512MB of RAM. The Torch 2, sadly, also features a 640 by 480 pixel resolution screen as well — still a long ways from being the prettiest phone on the market. It also features the rest of the features that the Dakota has, minus 3G hotspot capabilities. The Torch 2 is slated for a third-quarter release this year.

The BlackBerry Storm is also getting an update — but this BlackBerry finally features a sexy 800 by 480 pixel resolution display. The Storm 3 has a 1.2 Ghz single-core processor, 512 MB of RAM and also features 3G hotspot capabilities. It also features a somewhat baffling orbital trackpad like the rest of the BlackBerry devices.

The Storm has been kind of a bust, but it does present an interesting opportunity for Research in Motion in the consumer space as it fills the same form factor that most popular consumer smartphones also have. The Storm should come out in September this year, according to the report.

So Research In Motion has a stronger offering for its most loyal users, so addicted to their devices that some call them “CrackBerries.” But will it be enough to combat Apple, Samsung, Motorola, and the rest in the consumer space — not to mention the impending arrival of the iPhone on Verizon’s cellular network? Probably not, based on precedent. All’s not lost, though: There are still around 55 million BlackBerry customers (a large portion of them business users) that are keen on finally getting a touch-and-type phone without sacrificing the aesthetic feel of the classic BlackBerry. Just getting them to upgrade, and not defect to other platforms, could be a win for RIM.

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