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Tablet, New iPhone Rival Said Under Development at RIM

Steve Jobs may have wowed the crowd at Apple's developer conference last week with the iPhone 4, but he knows that the technology competition in the smartphone business is far from over. So it is that word comes late Monday that Research In Motion Ltd. is developing new devices and software for its flagship Blackberry line.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the company is testing a touch-screen smartphone which comes with a slide-out keyboard. The company could use a filip. It faces stepped-up competition not only from Apple but from devices which run Google's Android as well.

The phone runs on a new version of the BlackBerry operating system and works much like an iPhone, letting users swipe through screens and expand images with their fingers, these people say. It also has a universal search bar that lets users scour all the phone's data and some data online as well, these people say.

RIM is also experimenting with a tablet device to serve as a larger-screen companion to its BlackBerry phone, say people familiar with RIM's plans. That device, which is in an early stage of development, will connect to cellular networks via a BlackBerry phone, these people say. It could come out as soon as the end of the year, these people say.

All informed speculation, of course, but the leaks make sense given RIM's declared calendar. Executives have talked about readying both a new operating system and a new Web browser by the September quarter.

Prototypes often change prior to final ship dates but the WSJ seems to have some scoopy details on what's currently the state of thinking inside RIM.

RIM's upcoming smartphone and operating system--dubbed BlackBerry OS 6.0--is aimed at addressing many of the complaints critics have leveled at the company's devices. RIM executives unveiled the software at an investor conference in April. Users can put icons for the apps they use most frequently on the new device's home screen, and scroll down that screen with a swipe of the finger, say people familiar with RIM's new phone and operating system.

Users can also swipe sideways to access separate screens with other collections of features and apps. One screen could have a collection of games; another could have a group of messaging applications, these people said. The home screen also contains a search bar that allows users to look up everything on the device--from contacts and calendar data to songs--that relates to the name or keyword they type in. The search may also be able to locate occurrences of the keyword on sites like Facebook or Twitter, some people familiar with the device said.

The new device will have a Qwerty keyboard that slides out from the bottom of the touch screen. Users can also type on a virtual keyboard in landscape mode, which requires the device to be turned on its side, people familiar with the device said. The device comes with four gigabytes of storage space and a five megapixel camera, these people say. RIM is also readying a new Internet browser that renders Web pages much faster than the current browser, and allows users to access more than one Web page at a time, people familiar with the device said.


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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.