updated 12/2/2010 6:46:55 PM ET 2010-12-02T23:46:55

Research in Motion Ltd., maker of BlackBerry smart phones, said on its blog Thursday that it will buy Swedish software developer The Astonishing Tribe, which specializes in making phone software more attractive and easy to use.

The Astonishing Tribe, dubbed TAT for short, designs software that runs on smart phones and that lets people personalize the way the devices look. For example, while a phone might run Google Inc.'s Android operating system, people can make it look unique by downloading software that makes the icons on a regular Android screen look more three-dimensional.

TAT said its software resides on 15 percent of all phones. It was founded in 2002 and has about 150 employees.

RIM did not say how much it paid for TAT, nor when the purchase is expected to close.

RIM's chief technology officer, David Yach, did not say how TAT's software might be useful to the company, except to confirm that TAT's visual flourishes have the potential to spice up RIM's phones and its forthcoming PlayBook tablet computer.

"We're excited that the TAT team will be joining RIM and bringing their talent to the BlackBerry PlayBook and smartphone platforms," he wrote in a blog post.

Shares of RIM closed at $62.69, up 87 cents.

RIM is best known for its BlackBerry phones, whose secure handling of e-mail makes it a popular choice among large businesses that issue phones to their employees.

BlackBerrys were among the first smart phones, however, RIM has been frustrated as consumers have flocked toward the iPhone and phones running Android. A Gartner report released last month said that in the third quarter RIM's smart phone market share slipped to fourth place behind Apple, Android and Symbian, the software that comes pre-loaded on phones made by Nokia Corp. RIM had ranked second place a year earlier.

Earlier this year, the company announced a new version of the operating system that runs on its phones. The software gives BlackBerrys a facelift, adding an onscreen keyboard, similar to the one on the iPhone, as well as an improved music player. The new operating system also pulls in information about people's contacts from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Though early reviewers said the makeover was an improvement, they noted that its features were not remarkable compared to what the iPhone and phones running Android have already been able to do.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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