RIM Nabs Torch Mobile for WebKit Browser

With its acquisition of Toronto–based Torch Mobile, RIM has joined the procession of market–leading smartphone vendors that have gravitated toward or adopted WebKit-based mobile browsers.

Torch Mobile, whose flagship offering is its Iris mobile browser, had this to say about the RIM acquisition:

“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.”

WebKit underlies the mobile browsers from many of RIM’s smartphone competitors, including Apple’s iPhone, Palm’s Pre, Nokia Symbian smartphones, and many Google Android-based handsets.

RIM had indicated that it would be overhauling its browser in 2010 to better compete with Apple, so the acquisition of Torch Mobile could be seen as a precursor to that effort.

A previous version of the Iris browser, demonstrated at the Mobile World Congress in February 2008, prompted PCMagazine to call it a “bare-bones, flaky browsing experience.” That was a year and half ago, though, so let’s give RIM and Torch Mobile the benefit of the doubt and assume that Iris has improved considerably since then.

We’ll have to see whether RIM replaces its current browser entirely with Iris or whether it picks and chooses Iris features and functionality as enhancements to its current browser. I suspect it might just take the plunge and switch completely to WebKit.

Another challenge for RIM is its operating system. The company needs to clear some moss from †he OS tree, which already has too many cluttered branches.

In this context, it’s worth noting that Nokia has perhaps a bigger challenge with its Symbian operating system, which has grown bulky while failing to keep pace with the changing requirements of smartphone users.

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