RIM acquires WebKit browser maker Torch Mobile, shuts down WM version

A little over one month after one of the most promising WebKit-based Web browsers for Windows Mobile introduced what its manufacturer called, "a whole new level of Internet capabilities to mobile devices," the manufacturer of IrisBrowser has found itself suddenly acquired by BlackBerry maker Research in Motion. The announcement was made this morning on Torch Mobile's blog:

"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," the latest blog post reads.
If you're wondering whether that means the end of the line for Iris Browser for Windows Mobile -- one of the two platforms Torch supports, the other being the Linux-based Qtopia -- apparently the answer is yes. Links to the latest downloads for the Windows Mobile version of Iris, including several that still appear on Torch Mobile's company blog, take the user now to a notice which includes the above excerpt.

The independent Windows Mobile blog WMExperts quotes a Torch Mobile spokesperson as saying Windows Mobile support has been discontinued as of now.

Up to this point in history, the Web browser has often been the BlackBerry's undoing in comparisons against the Apple iPhone, Palm Pre, or sometimes to a Windows 95-based 486DX running Mosaic. Though RIM's browser has seen improvements this year, in terms of functionality and ease of use, it remains worlds behind its competition; and many BlackBerry users prefer free, third-party alternatives such as Opera Mini.

A Torch Mobile browser for BlackBerry would be a tremendous leap forward, giving it the fast WebKit-based browsing that currently characterizes Apple Safari and Google Chrome. While it still lacks direct support for Adobe Flash video, in recent days, RIM has been indicating that future support for Flash -- another missing element in BlackBerry phones -- will no longer be a problem, perhaps within the year. That will enable YouTube and other major sites to reach an even wider audience.

Iris Browser for Windows Mobile hasn't come with a lot of chrome up to now -- it's not flashy, preferring to be plain and direct...a lot like BlackBerry. With WebKit, it can render a complete Web page in "Desktop Mode" in a manner that's true to its PC-oriented layout, though which of course requires magnification to be seen up close. (Many older BlackBerrys have 320 x 200 screens, so this is expected.) But one of its trademark features is a superimposed slider (for touchscreen phones) that represents a postage-stamp view of long Web pages, and that lets you thumb your way down the page rapidly.

Just two weeks ago, the independent blog RIMarkable presented its "Top 10 Reasons RIM Needs To Update The BlackBerry Browser Immediately." In it, author Robb Dunewood admitted that all ten reasons he had come up with were actually just one, "The Web browser on the BlackBerry sucks!"

"I am not saying that RIM needs to make a Web browser based on WebKit," Dunewood wrote, "but with most carriers offering pretty good 3G speeds and 4G being right in addition to the days of BlackBerry devices without Wi-Fi looking like they are numbered, RIM needs to come out something that can at least legitimately get in the game." Sounds like someone took Dunewood's words to heart.

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