Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) introduced its highly anticipated mobile phone at this month's Macworld Expo, receiving rave reviews for its innovation, ease of use, and wow factor. Its bright prospects may even cloud the outlook for the market's current leader, Research in Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) and its venerable Blackberry, one analyst contends.

Needham & Company's research analyst John Lynch said on Tuesday that Apple's upcoming iPhone has the potential to have an impact on RIM's push into the consumer space, as the firm introduces its new Blackberry Pearl phone.

Some buyers will need the reliable push email of BlackBerry, and some will balk at iPhone’s gaudy price tag, Lynch said. But we expect a large portion of would-be Pearl buyers will find iPhone’s email to be good enough, in light of its unprecedented multimedia functionality and web browsing experience.

RIM made a name for itself with its original Blackberry smart phone, becoming the premiere email device for enterprise and government buyers, as well as heavy e-mailers in the consumer markets.

Part of RIM's success in recent months, however, has been driven by the promise of the company expanding into the huge consumer market, the Needham analyst says. Its recently launched Blackberry Pearl, the firm’s first push into the consumer segment, will impede the phenomenal consumer growth rates we had anticipated, Lynch said.

On top of Apple's new challenge, sooner than expected price cuts to the Pearl and disappointing retail positioning have caused us to reduce our expectations for RIM’s performance in the consumer market.

The firm dropped its rating on RIMM to Hold from Buy.