RIM, once the maker of the most corporate-looking handhelds, is rumoured to be working on a touch-screen phone that will compete with the iPhone and - for the first time on a Blackberry - have no hard keyboard.

The Blackberry 9000 series will be aimed at the consumer market, where the condensed Blackberry Pearl has had a lot of success since its launch last year marked a change of direction for RIM.

"The 9000 is supposed to be a touchscreen device, very similar in form factor to the iPhone," says analyst Carmi Levy of ARCommunications, in an article for Unstrung. He expects them to appear in the first quarter of 2008, to be aimed squarely at consumers, not suits, and to have 3G as well as updated multimedia abilities.

RIM isn't discussing this in public, but the rumours on several sites are getting confident that the 9000 will extend the company's Pearl consumer range a bit further to capitalise on the demand created by the iPhone.

While Levy is quoted saying this is "the future of the Blackberry franchise," no one expects the new product - if any - to dislodge the company's mainstay, the traditional Blackberry qwerty email phones beloved by executives.

RIM hasn't responded to this burst of rumours but Levy believes the 9000 Series will appear in the first quarter of 2008, apparently after missing an original target of the second half of this year.