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RIM's BlackBerry gets a grip on color

Research In Motion's wireless communications handheld will come with a color screen starting this summer, the company's chairman says.

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.--Research In Motion's BlackBerry device will be showing its true colors starting this summer.

At a wireless conference here, RIM Chairman Jim Balsillie told an audience of investors, analysts and reporters that a BlackBerry handheld with a color screen will be available in a few months. The BlackBerry device and service allow subscribers to wirelessly access corporate data such as e-mail.

Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM demonstrated a BlackBerry with a color screen earlier this year at the annual 3GSM World Congress cellular industry conference in Cannes, France. At the time, the company said that the device was a prototype, and a representative stated in an e-mail that it wasn't clear when or if the gadget would come to market.

The company is coming out with a color screen ahead of direct rivals Good Technology and wireless software developer Danger. However, Danger is working on a "Hiptop" device with a color screen that's expected to be available by the summer. And some of RIM's indirect competitors, such as Palm or Handspring, already have color screens in their devices.

"We didn't want to do (a BlackBerry with a color screen) until the battery system was there" to handle the display, Balsillie said. He did not reveal the cost of the new device.

Balsillie said the wireless communications market is made up of niches and that RIM will try to address as many areas as possible to broaden its reach.

The company will focus on the high-end consumer market next, with its BlackBerry 6200, which could cost anywhere from $300 to $350--about $200 to $150 less than the devices for business consumers.

While lower prices for BlackBerry devices will help drive sales, lower monthly subscription fees that business customers pay for wireless e-mail service also will drive demand, according to Justin Udelhofen, an analyst at Needham.

"This is not like the printer business, where manufacturers lower the price of the hardware and consumers are comfortable paying the same amount for the consumables," Udelhofen said.

During RIM's fiscal fourth-quarter earnings call earlier this month, the company said it had more than 534,000 subscribers to its messaging service.