Research in Motion (RIM) executives are being grilled over a potential touchscreen BlackBerry at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, where RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie suggested such a model could be in the offing.

"For sure, we're looking at all kinds of different device packaging and presentation," Balsillie told Reuters. I think getting religious on package is not the way to go," Balsillie continued. "It's really user preference-oriented."

RIM, which makes the BlackBerry Pearl and other popular wireless email devices, was rumoured on blogs last autumn to be making a new device with a different user interface from its typical keyboard and screen.

The Boy Genius Report blog even posted concept illustrations of the coming BlackBerry 9000 device, saying it had a 480x320-pixel touchscreen and could hit the market in the first half of 2008. In that illustration, the entire front of the device was a touchscreen, similar to the iPhone.

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Some bloggers, including Al Sacco at PC Advisor's sister title CIO US, said the device would be a suitable follow-up to Apple's iPhone touchscreen interface.

Since the device has not appeared, some analysts wonder if it will ever happen, or even whether it makes sense. "I'd say the chances are near zero that this [BlackBerry 9000] will happen anytime soon," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J Gold Associates. "It makes no sense for them to eliminate their keyboard and navigation as it will alienate their user base and require that they totally re-architect the OS running on the device," Gold added.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney said he would bet that RIM wouldn't do a complete touchscreen interface. "RIM is into typing," he said, referring to the Qwerty keyboards on other RIM devices that are widely used by corporate customers and embraced by others on the consumer-focused Pearl.

But Dulaney said he believes RIM has a new user interface of some kind in development that provides "innovation in the typing area".

Several phone and wireless device makers have followed the iPhone's touch concept, and some touchscreens even preceded it.

Motorola showed a Rokr E8 phone at the Consumer Electronics Show that attempts to improve on the iPhone by giving users a mild 'buzz' when a key is contacted on a smooth surface. By contrast, users of the iPhone don't get a tactile response from touching keys on its plate of glass.

See also:

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