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RIM Acquires Torch Mobile

To get the BlackBerry's browser on par with the iPhone and Android, RIM has acquired the maker of the Iris mobile browser for an undisclosed amount.

In an effort to boost the browsers in its BlackBerry smartphones, Research In Motion has acquired Torch Mobile for an undisclosed amount.

Torch Mobile is best known for the Iris mobile browser, which is built upon the WebKit rendering engine. The browser also has a Web widget platform for things like Google Gadgets, Yahoo widgets, and other content providers.

"Torch Mobile's team of highly skilled developers has been actively involved in open source development and includes contributors, commiters, and reviewers of the WebKit project," Torch said on its Web site. "As part of RIM, these developers will continue to be active participants in the WebKit development community."

RIM's BlackBerry smartphones are widely considered to have the best mobile e-mail functionality, but the mobile browsing experience lags behind Apple's iPhone, Google's Android, and Palm's Pre, which all use browsers based on WebKit. The acquisition aligns with recent reports that RIM will be making a strong effort to bolster its browsers, including potential future support for Flash and Silverlight technologies.

The move comes as more and more consumers are using their mobile phones to browse the Web on the go, and this is leading to increased competition in the mobile browser space. While most people use the on-deck browser for their surfing needs, there is a growing market for third-party browsers.

Opera Mini has been downloaded and used by more than 20 million people, and it is optimized to minimize bandwidth and hardware requirements. Mozilla is trying to replicate the success it had on the desktop with Firefox by bringing out the Fennec mobile browser, and it brings extension support to smartphones. Additionally, startup Skyfire has generated a lot of buzz with its browser because it enables users to access and interact with sites built with Flash, Ajax, JavaScript, and other Web technologies.

With strong browsers, smartphones could eventually replace your laptop as a mobile computing device. InformationWeek analyzed how handhelds are becoming over-the-air portals for enterprise apps, and the report can be downloaded here (registration required).

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