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New BB Torch Costs as Much to Make as iPhone 4

Research in Motion's newest phone, the BlackBerry Torch, has at least one thing in common with the iPhone 4: they cost about the same to make. Sales of the two are much, much further apart.

Supply chain researcher iSuppli did its traditional tear-down of the BlackBerry Torch 9800 and found the new phone, which is pretty vital to RIM if it hopes to stave off the onslaught from Apple's iPhone and Google's Android army, has an estimated bill of materials (BOM) of $171.05, and probably costs about $12 to assemble, for a total of $183.05.

iSuppli estimated the iPhone 4 bill of materials, minus assembly costs, to be $187.51 for the 16GB model, which retails for $199 with a two-year contract.

Of course, that's where the similarities end. Apple said it sold three million iPhone 4 models in the first month of release and can't make them fast enough. The Wall Street Journal puts first week sales of the Torch 9800 at 150,000 units. Just days after the launch, Amazon cut the price to $99 from $199, with a two-year contract, but an Amazon spokesperson told Reuters that it was a short-term promotional offer, not a price cut.

The Torch is an ambitious phone for RIM. (See our own teardown here.) It's the first BlackBerry to feature both a touch-screen and a slide-out keyboard. Most BlackBerry phones have used a hard keyboard, but RIM has released the Storm, a touch-screen device meant to take on the iPhone.

In examining the internals of the Torch, iSuppli found that RIM reused a lot of technology from older phones. The slide-out keyboard and a GPS Integrated Circuit (IC) are a first for RIM phones, and the BlackBerry OS 6.0 represents a major update to the phone OS.

After that, there are quite a few retreads. The Torch's Radio Frequency (RF), power amplifier and power management subsystems are similar or virtually identical to the Bold 9700, the last phone to come from RIM. The Torch's screen is very similar to that of the BlackBerry Storm2 9550, and the Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) accelerometer in the Torch is also used in the Storm2 9550.

"On the outside, the Torch delivers a rich feature set, with three User Interfaces (UIs): a capacitive touch screen, an optical track pad and the first slider QWERTY keyboard found in a BlackBerry," Andrew Rassweiler, principal analyst, teardown services manager for iSuppli said in a statement.

"On the inside, the Torch's electronic design heavily leverages subsystems used in previous members of the BlackBerry smart phone line, specifically the Storm2 and the Bold 9700. With this evolutionary approach, RIM has delivered a smart phone with an enhanced feature set that largely matches those of the BlackBerry’s chief competitors: the iPhone and the Android-based handsets.

"Mechanically, it is comparable in complexity and cost to HTC Tilt 2. Likewise, the Torch integrates Texas Instruments's WL1271x WLAN/BlueTooth IC, which can be found in products including Motorola's Droid X and Microsoft's Kin 2," Rassweiler added.

The most expensive component is the 360x480 3.2-inch TFT LCD screen, with a price of $34.85. That's 20.4 percent of the overall product BOM. Coming in at a close second in terms of cost is the memory subsystem at $34.25. This includes 4Gbytes of eMMC NAND flash memory, an 8Gbit NAND flash and 4Gbit Mobile Double Data Rate (DDR) SDRAM, along with a 4GB removable Micro SD memory card from SanDisk.

The mechanical/electromechanical portions of the Torch, including the printed circuit boards and the enclosure plastics and metals, came in third at an estimated cost of $23.35, representing 13.7 percent of the Torch's BOM. The CPU from Marvell Technology Group is $15, the Infineon Technologies' RF transceiver and power amplifier section is $13.90, and STMicroelectronics' STV0987 video/image processor is $12.40.