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RIM's iPhone rival rumored for October with Rhapsody tie-in

Blackberry maker Research In Motion is reported to be readying Thunder, its answer to Apple's iPhone, for an October release alongside a partnership with Real's Rhapsody music service.

Also known as the Blackberry 9500, the new device will reportedly sport a 480x320 touch-screen, 3.2 megapixel camera, and a MicroSD memory expansion slot.

Photos of the device (below) recently published by BlackberrySync show four physical buttons —Call, BlackBerry menu, Back, and End —below the screen.

Other user interaction will take place on the phone's touch-screen through an interface that closely resembles the iPhone's embedded version of Mac OS X, complete with a five-icon dock anchored to the base of the home screen.

Also like the iPhone, the Thunder will feature a landscape mode for watching movies and other videos captured through its built in camera. However, it's unlikely to compete directly with the Apple handset from the onset.

A report published Tuesday by Fudzilla has the device launching in the US exclusively with Verizon on October 8th, standing as the CDMA carriers' best shot at retaining subscribers ultimately seeking an iPhone-like experience. There are rumors, however, that the device will also feature GSM technology for roaming in Europe and a possible partnership with Verizon partner Vodafone.

As part of its US launch plans with Verizon, RIM has also reportedly sealed a deal that will allow the Thunder to download music tracks from Real's Rhapsody music service over the air, without the need for a WiFi connection.

Blackberry Thunder

Blackberry Thunder | Source: Blackberry Sync

In the weeks leading up to the June 9th iPhone 3G launch, it was reported that Apple was seeking a similar arrangement by which iTunes customers could download tracks over AT&T's 3G network.

The negotiations with labels, which were said to be in the early stages, also included talk of ringback tones and expanding the inventory of iTunes tracks available for conversion into ringtones.