Palm (PALM), Nokia (NOK), Motorola (MOT), have a look: This is exhibit A in how Research in Motion (RIMM) is running circles around you in the smartphone market. It's called the BlackBerry Curve.
Think of the Curve as a version of RIM's BlackBerry Pearl for people who have actual work to do. The Pearl looks great and worked fine in my tests, but the absence of a full QWERTY keyboard was a deal breaker for me. Too often with the Pearl, I found myself wanting to type an e-mail on the go but hesitating or settling for a shorter note because of the keyboard hassle. (Even though the Pearl wasn't for me, I applaud RIM for making it; it's been enormously popular, and is perhaps the first smartphone to prove that a business phone can be sleek. I love my Treo 700, but sleek it is not.)
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The Curve, however, is more my speed. A CNET News story about the Curve suggests it will sell for somewhere in the $200 range after carrier incentives; it comes with Roxio software for organizing content on the phone.I'm hoping the Curve will be a wake-up call for Palm, which has lately behaved like a self-satisfied shoo-in even as RIM has gobbled market share. Palm's idea of a new hardware design lately is lopping off a phone's antenna and giving it a paint job, and while I'm sure Palm's Treo 680 is doing fine, it's not going to knock anyone's socks off that way.
Palm's big differentiators used to be cool phone designs and intuitive software, but no longer. Other devices look better, and while Palm's software is still intuitive, it's not enormously superior to competitors like the BlackBerry.
RIM's timing with the Curve is auspicious, too: with Apple's (AAPL) iPhone set to debut this summer on AT&T's (T) wireless network, I'll bet consumers will be looking for less-expensive iPhone alternatives that work on that network. So far, the BlackBerry Curve looks like the best fallback option in the field.