* RIM Q3 EPS $1.74 vs consensus $1.65
* Revenue of $5.5 billion, vs consensus $5.4 billion
* Ships 14.2 mln BlackBerrys, adds 5.1 mln subscribers
* Shares rise as much as 3 percent in after-hours trade
(In U.S. dollars)
By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Research In Motion's RIM.TO Torch, a touchscreen challenger to Apple's iPhone, lifted the BlackBerry maker's quarterly profit above analyst expectations on Thursday and the company forecast strong results from the current holiday season quarter.
RIM RIMM.O said net profit jumped 45 percent in its third quarter. Its shares rose as much as 3 percent in after-market trade.
The Torch, which combines RIM's trademark mini keyboard with the glitzier touchscreen, shipped to dozens of carriers in the quarter after an August launch with AT&T (T.N) in the United States.
"The results look pretty good. For the current quarter they definitely benefited from some new products... The guidance also looks quite strong," said Shaw Wu, of Kaufman Bros in San Francisco.
The Canadian company said it expects to earn between $1.74 and $1.80 per share in the December to February quarter, sharply higher than analysts had been expecting.
RIM said it shipped 14.2 million BlackBerry smartphones in the latest quarter, a figure that edged past average analyst expectations. It added a net 5.1 million new subscribers, matching the average forecast for this key metric.
This is the last quarter RIM will routinely publish its net subscriber additions, a measure with no direct comparison for RIM's peers, which do not operate their own wireless network.
For a Reuters Insider preview [ID:nRTV172556]
Interview with co-CEO Mike Lazaridis [ID:nN29230611]
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"There is some concern that (guidance) could be too optimistic perhaps because of the ongoing pressure, particularly from Android, in international markets," said Wu.
Many analysts have been fretting over RIM's longer-term prospects in a booming market that includes relative newcomers Apple (AAPL.O) and Google (GOOG.O), whose Android software is used by device makers including Motorola MOT.N, Taiwan's HTC Corp (2498.TW) and South Korea's Samsung (005930.KS).
"The concerns for this name don't go away, they don't go away with this quarter. What happens in the U.S. marketplace when the iPhone hits Verizon? (What happens) when the cheaper Android handsets start to crack into the international base," said Colin Gillis of BGC Partners
RIM made its name with secure, reliable communications for the world's business and government elites before branching out into a crowded consumer market.
It reported net profit of $911.1 million, or $1.74 per share, on revenue of $5.49 billion in the most recent quarter. That handily beat the average of analysts expected earnings of $1.65 per share and revenue of $5.4 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
RIM's share price has rallied since it launched the Torch with a revamped browser in August and showed off its new PlayBook tablet in late September. [IDnN27231916]
RIM is working hard to get the the 7-inch PlayBook tablet -- its challenger to Apple's iPad -- into the market by early in 2011. It says the device will combine the security of the BlackBerry with iPad's user-friendly features.
Co-CEO Jim Balsillie told a conference call that the PlayBook is likely to ship in the United States in March, but RIM does not plan to book revenues from the device in its fiscal fourth quarter, which ends on Feb. 26.
Analysts have been expecting between 1.3 million and 8.4 million PlayBook sales for RIM's fiscal 2012.
The tablet's launch will likely coincide with updated versions of the iPad and with Samsung's Android-powered Galaxy Tab. (Additional reporting by Euan Rocha; editing by Janet Guttsman and Frank McGurty)