Research In Motion's Bold Shot at Apple

Have you heard about the smartphone that has Wi-Fi functionality, syncs up with iTunes, and comes shutterbug-friendly with a 2-megapixel camera?

Yes, that's Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone. However, this morning Research In Motion's (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) BlackBerry Bold joins the club.

Bold also comes ready for speedier 3G online surfing, a practical must these days for overseas use. Tack on built-in GPS navigation and the BlackBerry's keyboard (Apple's touch-screen keyboard is the only thing I hate about my iPhone), and you have to wonder if RIM has finally built an iPhone killer.

iBlackBerry, anyone?

No one is making a big deal about the smartphone battle between Apple and RIM, probably because both companies are growing so quickly. RIM signed up more than 2 million BlackBerry subscribers this past quarter, now it's got more than 14 million CrackBerry addicts. Apple is earlier in the adoption cycle but managed to sell 1.7 million iPhones last quarter.

In other words, with 3.7 million BlackBerry and iPhone handsets sold this past quarter, there's no sense quibbling about market share slices when the pie is just getting larger. Even some of the dynamics on the sidelines -- like Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) fading and Nokia's (NYSE: NOK  ) latest cell phones coming loaded with smartphone features -- have been ignored.

What is quickly growing into a massive misconception is that BlackBerry is for corporate users and the iPhone is consumer candy. You don't load up a BlackBerry with camera and portable digital media storage if it's never going to leave the boardroom. You don't move to make the iPhone a company email retriever if you want it only to serve YouTube videos during boring commutes.

There's a war brewing here, folks. There is no question that the market can support two -- or possibly even more -- smartphone heavies. Of course it can. However, once the race is on to pad features without siphoning away battery charges, it gets way too easy for a cocky company to be asleep at the wheel.

The ball is now in Apple's court. Everyone is expecting the company to put out a 3G phone in a couple of weeks. The key here is for Apple's upcoming models to raise the stakes for RIM. Simply matching RIM with the built-in GPS -- a rudimentary workaround on the iPhone as it leans on Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) to map out coordinates around the nearest Wi-Fi hot spots -- or improving the clunky keyboard screen will be nice -- but will it be enough?

Yes, there's a battle building. Arrive early for a seat close to the action.

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