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BlackBerry Bold 9650 will ship in May, RIM says

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Finally – some smartphone news that has absolutely nothing to do with Apple or the new iPhone OS. On Monday, Research In Motion introduced the BlackBerry Bold 9650, essentially an upgraded, rejiggered version of the top-selling BlackBerry Tour. According to RIM, a CDMA version of the BlackBerry Bold 9650 will ship on May 23 to Sprint Nextel and Verizon customers.

The price tag is 200 bucks, after a $100 mail-in rebate.

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So what's so great about the Bold 9650? Well, for one, RIM has swapped out the traditional BlackBerry trackball, which is notorious for collecting lint and assorted gunk, for an optical trackpad. But the big update for the Bold 9650, pictured at left, is Wi-Fi support, a functionality noticeably missing from the BlackBerry Tour.

The BlackBerry Bold 9650 announcement was meant to be a big one for RIM, but Reuters reported that RIM stock tumbled on Monday, as investors worried that the company would not be able to keep pace with offerings from Apple and other competitors. "RIM does not have a competing product for the retail space and that is very, very negative for anyone who's buying the stock today," one analyst told Reuters. Some would point to the BlackBerry Storm as RIM's iPhone rival, but others think it's a stinker.

Although overall mobile phone sales sank in 2009, smartphone sales were way up in Q4 of last year. (The BlackBerry OS was the second most-popular in the world, behind Nokia's Symbian.) Mobile market prognosticators have estimated that smart phone sales will continue to grow. The question now is whether RIM – and phones such as the Bold 9650 – can hold up against a continued onslaught from Apple.