BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion (RIM) has experimented with a variety of new designs and form-factors for its smartphones over the past couple of years. Most notable are the BlackBerry Storm, RIM's first touch-screen BlackBerry, and the Pearl Flip 82xx, the company's first and only "clamshell" or flip-phone. (Rumors suggest a couple of touch-screen-QWERTY hybrids are also in the mix, but that's a whole different story altogether...)
After the original Storm 9500/9530 was released, it made a splash largely for the wrong reasons: less-than-perfect screen technology; laggy OS; and generally un-BlackBerry-like performance all around. But the Pearl Flip, which was originally released in a GSM-flavor on T-Mobile U.S.A in the fall of 2008, for better or worse, never really received much fanfare at all, beyond its initial novelty. (A BlackBerry flip-phone? Whodathunkit?)
Then last June, Verizon Wireless released the CDMA Pearl Flip 8230 to a similarly tepid reception from consumers. And today, what appears to be leaked inventory information from Verizon suggests the Pearl Flip is about to be retired, along with two additional RIM handsets: the Curve 8330 and Storm 9530.
The above mentioned devices are listed as "end of life" handsets, defined by the leaked document as:
"Current devices with limited or no remaining shipments from the vendor."
In other words, when existing stock is dry, say bye-bye.
Both the original Storm and Curve 8330 have already been "upgraded" via the Storm2 9550 and Curve 8350. An upgraded Pearl, the BlackBerry 9100, should hit U.S. carriers this year, but it's akin to the Pearl 8100-series and will not feature a flip form factor. RIM doesn't have any more flip-phones in the pipeline, either--at least that I know of. So it looks as though Verizon users are about to lose the BlackBerry Flip option.
Which begs the question: Can T-Mobile be far behind? I don't think so.
The problem with the Pearl Flip? When most people think of BlackBerrys, they conjure up images of the recognizable "candy-bar" style device with a QWERTY keyboard. So while RIM's idea to "bridge the gap" between smartphone and feature-phone was a novel one, your average consumer doesn't want to pay extra for a BlackBerry data plan on a phone that looks and feels just like their three-year old LG clamshell. When you buy a BlackBerry, you (for the most part) want that candy-bar-device with the iconic keyboard. Or if you want a touch-screen device, you go with the Storm.
As I publish this post, both Verizon and T-Mobile are still offering the Pearl Flip 82xx online--Verizon's practically giving the thing away at just $9.99 on contract, while T-Mobile's wants $29.99. But I wouldn't be surprised if both carriers yank the Pearl Flip from shelves as soon as they plow through existing inventory.
And that could very well be the death knell for the BlackBerry flip phone.
So if you've had your eye on the Pearl Flip for whatever reason, now's the time to drop a few extra nickels and dimes at your local Verizon and/or T-Mobile shop.
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