New BlackBerry smartphone to hit US market, but its look will be familiar

TORONTO – A new BlackBerry smartphone is headed to U.S. stores later this month, but it’ll look especially familiar to most users.

Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) said Thursday it will launch the BlackBerry Curve 9315, a slightly updated version of the keypad phones already on the market, in the United States.

The launch is exclusively through U.S. carrier T-Mobile, and a release date is set for Jan. 23.

The model has already been released in other regions, including Europe, Asia and Latin America.

One of the major differences between this phone and other BlackBerry devices available in the U.S. is the a dedicated BBM button, which allows users to open the company’s popular chat application with the touch of a button.

The BBM button has been a popular feature on models sold outside North America, and the company has put an increasing amount of focus on the exclusivity features of the chat system.

“We’ve gotten some great response on the product worldwide and we wanted to bring a variant to the U.S. market,” said Richard Piasentin, vice president and manager of U.S. sales marketing and operations.

In November, the company updated BBM chat to make it capable of handling voice calls over Wi-Fi networks.

The BlackBerry Curve 9315 runs on RIM’s existing BlackBerry 7 operating system and also features an FM tuner to listen to radio stations without using mobile phone data.

BlackBerry Curves are considered “entry level” devices by the company, which means they’re marketed to new smartphone users and consumers on a budget. The phone is sold for a lower price than other BlackBerry models.

RIM is putting the finishing touches on its BlackBerry 10 operating system and a new slate of high-end touchscreen and keypad smartphones that are expected to hit stores early this year, after numerous delays.

The updated phones are considered by industry observers to be a last ditch effort by RIM to recover its eroding market share in key markets like North America and Europe.

RIM shares ended Thursday down 22 cents to $11.35 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.