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RIM sets sights on WebKit, acquires Torch Mobile

Smartphone maker confirms its intentions to compete with Apple in the mobile browser space with its acquisition of Torch Mobile, announced Monday.

Research In Motion's BlackBerry browser isn't poised to match Safari on Apple's iPhone, a glaring problem as the smartphone maker attempts to compete in the mobile-browser market. But RIM appears to be addressing this issue with its latest acquisition.

Torch Mobile, a WebKit developer that offers the Iris mobile browser, announced Monday that it has been acquired by RIM for an undisclosed sum.

"Our team of developers will join RIM's global organization and will now be focused on utilizing our WebKit-based mobile browser expertise to contribute to the ongoing enhancement of the BlackBerry platform," Torch Mobile wrote in a statement on the company's Web site.

RIM's decision to acquire Torch Mobile might be a smart one for the company. WebKit has become the (unofficial) standard in the smartphone market, providing users with a superior browsing experience than what is currently offered on BlackBerry smartphones. It's widely considered to be fast and robust. Most importantly, it's open source.

Several RIM competitors, including the iPhone, Palm's Pre, Symbian S60 phones, and Android-based devices use WebKit to power their respective browsers. RIM ostensibly felt that it needed to level the playing field.

Earlier this month, market analyst at TD Securities, Chris Umiastowski, said that RIM representatives are promising a BlackBerry browser on-par with the iPhone's browser by the summer of 2010. That news was followed by a report from the Boy Genius Report claiming RIM will integrate Flash and Silverlight support into the BlackBerry browser.

Torch Mobile might be the first step towards achieving that goal.

RIM did not announce its plans for Torch Mobile or its browser. Terms of the deal were also undisclosed. But at this point, it seems that the question of if RIM will release a WebKit-based browser needs to be replaced by a question of when it will be offered in BlackBerry devices.