You just can't keep a secret in the tech industry these days. Early pictures of T-Mobile's Google phone leaked onto the Web the week before its Sept. 23 launch, and now images are surfacing online of another eagerly awaited device: a new handheld from Research In Motion (RIM), the BlackBerry Storm. RIM hasn't officially launched the new device yet and it declined to comment on the leak but the Storm is clearly a direct assault on Apple's iPhone 3G and T-Mobile's G1. It's also an attempt to wow consumers with both a jazzy new design and an App Center filled with games and other add-on programs.
On Saturday, an independent site called Boy Genius Report leaked a 17-page PowerPoint presentation that purported to show the touchscreen Storm, along with an App Center that mimics Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market. The site followed up on Monday with a Storm user guide that TIME was unable to access probably because too many other folks were attempting to do the same thing but which was promptly reposted on CrackBerry. RIM would not confirm that the leaked photos were of the Storm, but by Monday afternoon the images had been published and identified as RIM's new device on a handful of sites, including ZDnet.com, Information Week, Gizmodo, CNET News.com and CrunchGear.
What's so exciting about yet another BlackBerry? The brand has built a reputation as a secure and reliable, though somewhat stodgy, e-mail device for corporate types, but the Storm could help recast BlackBerry as a viable, exciting option for consumers as well. Unlike most devices from the smartphone maker based in Waterloo, Canada, the Storm won't have a physical keyboard, allowing for a larger, 3.2-in. touchscreen and a much neater appearance. And with a wide range of after-market applications including Facebook, a blackjack game and a GPS navigation program it should also be a lot more fun to use. All apps can be downloaded via a built-in browser, but it is not clear whether the App Center will be accessible from older models of BlackBerry handhelds. The Storm is expected to run on Verizon's 3G network and also support wi-fi, so downloading the apps should be fairly quick. As an added bonus, the Storm will reportedly feature intuitive cut-and-paste functionality a huge selling point for e-mail junkies who have long favored the BlackBerry brand.
Other noteworthy features include the built-in GPS, a media player and landscape mode for viewing Web pages horizontally and typing e-mails. (The iPhone 3G does not let you type e-mails in horizontal mode.) The screen is about the same size and resolution as the iPhone, while the built-in camera is slightly better at 3.2 megapixels, vs. 2.0 megapixels on the iPhone. You can also record video a feature strangely lacking on the iPhone and G1.
Feature-rich smartphones like the BlackBerry and iPhone are one of the few bright spots in an otherwise stagnant cell-phone market. Of the estimated 1 billion cell phones sold worldwide this year, more than 181 million were smartphones a number that is expected to more than double by 2011, according to ABI Research. One out of 10 cell phones currently has a touchscreen.
RIM declined TIME's request for comment on the leaked information about the Storm. But with a formal announcement expected by Wednesday, the Web buzz that began this spring about the hot new BlackBerry has turned into a roar.