January 31, 2013

Blackberry smartphone effort finally bears fruit

RIM hopes its new device will eat into the big sales lead of Apple and others, despite its delayed arrival.

By PETER SVENSSON and ROB GILLIES, The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Research In Motion Ltd. unveiled new, versatile BlackBerrys on Wednesday after excruciating delays allowed Apple, Samsung and others to build commanding leads in an industry that is redefining society. But the first phone won't come out in the United States until March, and one with a physical keyboard will take at least a month longer.

Thorsten Heins, CEO of Research in Motion,  Frank Boulban, Chief Marketing Officer of Research in Motion
click image to enlarge

Thorsten Heins, CEO of Research in Motion, introduces the BlackBerry 10 in New York on Wednesday. The company is promising a speedy browser, a superb typing experience and the ability to keep work and personal identities separate on the same smartphone.

The Associated Press

The stock fell 12 percent after Wednesday's kickoff, despite mostly positive reviews about the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. There's concern the phone isn't coming out sooner, and there's worry that BlackBerry 10's advances won't be enough to turn the company around.

In a move underscoring the stakes riding on its make-or-break product lineup, RIM used the occasion to announce that it is changing the company's name to BlackBerry. It's a pioneering brand that lost its cachet not long after Apple's 2007 release of the iPhone, which reset expectations for what a smartphone should do.

Pioneered in 1999, BlackBerry became a game-changing breakthrough in personal connectedness. It changed the culture by allowing on-the-go business people to access wireless email. President Obama couldn't bear to part with his BlackBerry. Oprah Winfrey declared it one of her "favorite things." It was so addictive at times that it was nicknamed "the CrackBerry."

As the BlackBerry began to cross over to consumers, rivals came out with a new generation of phones that could do more than just email and messaging, starting with the iPhone and followed by devices running Google's Android system. Suddenly, the BlackBerry looked ancient.

RIM promised a new system to catch up, using technology it got through its 2010 purchase of QNX Software Systems. But it has taken more than two years to unveil new phones that are redesigned for the new multimedia, Internet browsing and apps experience that customers are now demanding.

CEO Thorsten Heins, who one year ago replaced longtime executives who had presided over BlackBerry's fall, formally unveiled the much-delayed smartphones and software Wednesday in New York. Simultaneous events were held in Toronto, London, Paris, Dubai, Johannesburg, New Delhi and Jakarta, Indonesia.

The first device in the new crop of revamped BlackBerrys will be the Z10 -- pronounced "zee-10" in the U.S. and "zed-10" elsewhere. As RIM previously disclosed, it will have only a touch-screen keyboard, like Apple Inc.'s trend-setting iPhone and most phones running Android, including Samsung Electronic Co.'s popular Galaxy line. Although the Z10 will go on sale Thursday in the U.K. and next Tuesday in Canada, it won't be available in the U.S. until March.

The Q10 will follow and will have a physical keyboard, a feature that has kept BlackBerry users loyal over the years because it makes typing easier. RIM said the Q10 will start going on sale on some global carriers in April, but it couldn't say when U.S. carriers will have it.

Heins said U.S. carriers need more time to test the devices. All the major U.S. carriers plan to sell the new BlackBerrys. Verizon Wireless said the Z10 will be available for $200 with a two-year service agreement, in line with what other major smartphones cost. In Canada, it will cost about $150 with a three-year contract.

Frank Boulben, RIM's chief marketing officer, said some of the delay in the U.S. stems from specific testing requirements imposed by the Federal Communications Commission. There was a similar delay when the iPhone first came out, though subsequent models were released more quickly after their announcements.

The U.S. has been one market in which RIM has been particularly hurting, even as the company is doing well in many places overseas. According to research firm IDC, shipments of BlackBerry phones plummeted from 46 percent of the U.S. market in 2008 to 2 percent in 2012. The iPhone and Android now dominate.

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