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RIM nears iPhone's sales with 6.7 million BlackBerries

After a symbolic victory over Research in Motion, Apple may have its fortunes reversed as the BlackBerry maker has almost exactly matched iPhone 3G summer sales during the fall.

The Waterloo, Ontario, Canada company said on Thursday that it had shipped about 6.7 million smartphones between September and November in what's characterized as a "record" quarter.

Even as a "challenging" world economy threatened to undo RIM's success, the firm says it earned about $2.8 billion in revenue, a dramatic 66.3 percent leap over the fall quarter in 2007. Roughly 81 percent of that money is chalked up to phone sales, while the rest is split across services and software.

Much of the increase is credited directly to a trio of phone launches in the period that included the BlackBerry Bold, Pearl Flip and Storm. Despite frequently hostile reactions by reviewers to the Storm, the company's first-ever touchscreen phone, the company said in a statement that its new lineup was being snapped up at an "even faster pace" than anticipated.

In a financial conference call held after the close of the stock market, the company noted that the Storm's launch with Verizon on November 21st represented the single largest day for new subscriber additions in RIM's history and that it has had trouble keeping up with demand for both the American carrier and recent Canadian introductions.

It's Verizon's best-selling device, RIM also said during the call, though the exact sell-through hasn't been given.

The shipment figures mark a surprising inversion for the BlackBerry creator, which suffered the embarrassment of being outperformed by Apple this summer after just over a year of iPhones competing in the same marketplace as RIM's products. Apple shipped 6.9 million handsets in the first quarter of the iPhone 3G's existence but will now have to almost match its launch figures to reclaim its lead — a feat considered difficult by analysts warning of possible weaker iPhone sales during the holiday season.

Not all was positive for RIM. Although it expects to fare well in its winter quarter, which lasts December through February, the company says that it added a relatively modest 2.6 million new BlackBerry service subscribers in the fall versus the 2.9 million predicted earlier in the year. The shortfall points to more BlackBerry sales heading to existing users than to new converts; during its financial call, RIM attributed much of this to the Bold where the Storm and other devices were split more evenly between newcomers and veteran users.

Both Apple and RIM have less to fear than Palm, however: the Treo-making pioneer sold through just 599,000 of its smartphones over the same three months tracked by RIM, leading to a 13 percent tumble compared to fall 2007 that will add to the market share of its larger American rivals.