A Pearl That's Shining

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Appealing to consumers with a sophisticated device like a BlackBerry communicator is a tricky proposition. Research In Motion, the BlackBerry makers, decided to do so with a sleek, shiny black handset called the BlackBerry Pearl, and it appears to be living up to its name. RIM's stock hit a 52-week high today as sales of the handset appeared to be going well, according to a stock analyst at UBS.

The Pearl is part of an effort by PDA manufacturers to expand their market, including the upcoming Treo 680 that Palm is also aiming at consumers.

Building their devices into cellphones has already helped revive the market for hand-held computers. The Gartner market research firm reported today that worldwide shipments of PDAs jumped 32 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, largely driven by rapid growth in cellular PDAs. Subsidizing by wireless providers, such as T-Mobile in the case of the Pearl, are helping to drive down the costs to consumers, wrote Gartner analyst Todd Kort. T-Mobile prices the Pearl at $200 with a two-year contract.

The jump in sales came before the seductive Pearl hit the market recently. The device is a little bigger than a typical, candy bar type cellphone but includes the feature that has made the BlackBerry particularly appealing, which is its "push" E-mail service. It also includes multimedia software for playing music and video, and it is the first BlackBerry to include a camera, which is an important feature for many consumers. RIM had been slow to include cameras in phones because of the security concerns they raise in corporate offices, which are the backbone of the BlackBerry business.

But the consumer market is the next big frontier for BlackBerry and other smart phones. And on that note, UBS analyst Maynard Um says that new subscribers, not just customers trading in old handsets, now account for about half of Pearl purchases. Perhaps more telling, the device is drawing consumer customers, including the teenage users that are crucial to the runaway success of any cellphone.