by Al Sacco

What RIM’s Torch Mobile Deal Means for the BlackBerry Browser–and You

Aug 25, 20094 mins
Computers and PeripheralsData CenterDeveloper

BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion's (RIM) recent acquisition of developer Torch Mobile suggests the BlackBerry's Web browser may soon be getting a much-needed makeover. That's great news for BlackBerry users--but it'll be a year or more before the fruits of the RIM/Torch deal reach the market. Here's why.

Ask BlackBerry power users for their number one complaint about Research In Motion (RIM) handhelds, and nine times out of ten you’ll get the same answer: The BlackBerry Browser.

RIM’s BlackBerry browser ships along with all BlackBerry devices and is the “mandatory-default” web-browsing software for BlackBerry smartphones–you can’t set third-party browsers as the default…at least not yet.

iamge of Torch Mobile's RIM Acquisition Announcement on BlackBerry Browser
Torch Mobile’s RIM Acquisition Announcement on BlackBerry Browser

The problem, errr, problems? The BlackBerry browser is slooooow, to say the least. Javascript-heavy pages consistently bring it to a standstill–unless, of course, you leave Javascript turned off. And the BlackBerry Browser frequently has problems rendering many common Web pages, so simply browsing the Web for a quick recipe or to answer a question can be like pulling teeth.

I raised the subject of the troublesome BlackBerry Browser to RIM’s Manager of Developer Relations Mike Kirkup last February, and Kirkup openly told me that RIM was well aware of the problem and that the company was working to address it.

During the past weeks, a variety of related information has hit the Web that backs up Kirkup’s claims and sheds some light on RIM’s current plans to boost the BlackBerry Browser.

First, an analyst who claimed to have inside knowledge from the BlackBerry maker said he has reason to believe the BlackBerry browser will be on par with the iPhone’s Safari browser by summer 2010.

Shortly thereafter, mobile blog stirred up the rumor mill further when it reported that RIM will build support for both full Flash–not Flash lite–and Microsoft’s Silverlight into future versions of the BlackBerry browser. Rumors about Flash finding its way into RIM’s browser had been bouncing around the Web already, but the new report was first to mention details.

And finally, news of RIM’s Torch Mobile acquisition showed up via Torch’s website yesterday, though neither company has issued an official press release and financial details on the deal are unknown at this point.

Torch Mobile developed the popular WebKit-based Iris Browser, which runs on a variety of handsets, including Windows Mobile devices. The WebKit open-source browser engine powers many of the world’s most popular mobile browsers, including iPhone Safari and Palm’s webOS browser–both of which are infinitely more functional than RIM’s BlackBerry Browser, at least in my opinion.

RIM’s acquisition of Torch is relevant because it signals a shift toward WebKit for the BlackBerry browser. This bit of news also serves as concrete proof that RIM’s not just talking about its plans to improve its busted browser, it’s acting on them.

Still, it will be some time before BlackBerry users see any sort of significantly revamped BlackBerry browser. As is, RIM’s current crop of BlackBerrys aren’t nearly “strong” enough for full Flash or Silverlight support. Also, faster processors and network transfer speeds will be necessary before Flash comes to the BlackBerry Browser, as noted in the BGR report.

It will also take time for RIM and Torch to “pool their resources” and get down to business, though Torch has reportedly ceased work already on all Windows Mobile-related initiatives. Its Iris Browser is expected to be discontinued, so the group’s efforts will clearly be dedicated to improving the BlackBerry Browser experience from here on out.

It’s also worth noting that RIM’s no stranger to such deals; in fact, competitive acquisitions have become a part of its business strategy. For example, RIM announced last December that it would acquire Chalk Media, so it could employ and build upon Chalk’s Mobile chalkboard “pushcast” offering.

So what does this all mean for the BlackBerry Browser? To sum it up: RIM’s in the process of seriously revamping its browser, and though it’ll probably be later rather than sooner that we see results–don’t hold your breath on that summer 2010 ETA–the Web-surfing future is bright for BlackBerry users. So prepare those Ray-Bans.


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