The maker of the BlackBerry smartphone is promising a speedier device, a superb typing experience and the ability to keep work and personal identities separate on the same phone. It's the fruit of a crucial, long-overdue makeover for the Canadian company.
Thorsten Heins, chief executive of Research In Motion, will show off the first phone with the new BlackBerry 10 system in New York on Wednesday. A marketing campaign that includes a Super Bowl ad will accompany the long-anticipated debut. Repeated delays have left the once-pioneering BlackBerry an afterthought in the shadow of Apple's trend-setting iPhone and Google's Android-driven devices.
Now, there's some optimism. Previews of the software have gotten favorable reviews on blogs. Financial analysts are starting to see some slight room for a comeback. RIM's stock has nearly tripled to $16.18 from a nine-year low in September, though it's still nearly 90 percent below its 2008 peak of $147.
Most analysts consider a BlackBerry 10 success to be crucial for the company's long-term viability.
“The old models are becoming obsolete quickly,'' BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis said. “There is still a big user base but it's going to rotate off. The question is: Where do they rotate to?''
Although executives have been providing a glimpse at some of BlackBerry 10's new features for months, Heins will finally showcase a complete system at Wednesday's event. Devices will go on sale soon after that. The exact date and prices are expected Wednesday.
RIM redesigned the system to embrace the multimedia, apps and touch-screen experience prevalent today. “Historically there have been areas that have not been our strongest points,'' Rick Costanzo, RIM's executive vice president of global sales, said in an interview. “Not only have we caught up, but we may even be better than some of the competition now.''
Costanzo said “no one else can touch'' what RIM's new system offers. The new operating system promises better multitasking than either the iPhone or Android. Simply swipe a finger across the phone's display screen to switch to another program. All emails and notifications from such applications as Twitter and Facebook go to the BlackBerry Hub, a nerve center accessible with a finger swipe even if you have another application open. One can peek into it and open an email, or return to the previous application without opening the email.
“You are not going in and out of applications; you're flowing through applications with one simple gesture of your finger,'' Costanzo said. “You can leave applications running. You can effortlessly flow between them. So that's completely unique to us.''
Gus Papageorgiou, a Scotiabank financial analyst who has tried it out, agreed with that assessment and said the keyboard even learns and adjusts to your thumb placements. The first BlackBerry 10 phone will have only a touch screen. RIM has said it will release a version with a physical keyboard soon after that. That's an area RIM has excelled at, and it's one reason many BlackBerry users have remained loyal despite temptations to switch.
Another distinguishing feature will be the BlackBerry Balance, which allows two personas on the same device. Businesses can keep their data secure without forcing employees to get a second device for personal use. For instance, IT managers can prevent personal apps from running inside corporate firewalls, but those managers won't have access to personal data on the device.
RIM is also claiming that the BlackBerry 10's browser will be speedy, even faster than browsers for laptop and desktop computers. According to Papageorgiou, early, independent tests between the BlackBerry 10 and the iPhone support that claim. Regardless of BlackBerry 10's advances, though, the new system will face a key shortcoming: It won't have as many apps written by outside companies and individuals as the iPhone and Android. RIM has said it plans to launch BlackBerry 10 with more than 70,000 apps, including those developed for RIM's PlayBook tablet, first released in 2011.
In constant motion
Research In Motion is banking on BlackBerry 10, a crucial makeover that the company hopes will help with a turnaround. A quick recap as the company desperately tries to regain the market share lost to Apple & Google
Jan 22, 2012: RIM founder Mike Lazaridis and long-time executive Jim Balsillie step down as co-CEOs. Thorsten Heins, a chief operating officer who joined RIM four years ago from Siemens AG, named replacement. Lazaridis and Balsillie remain on the board
March 29: Balsillie resigns. RIM reports a loss of $125 million, its first quarterly loss since fiscal 2005. Heins doesn't rule out a sale
April 26: Prem Watsa, RIM's third-largest investor, says he sees his investment in the company as a long-term one, adding that RIM's fortunes won't be reversed soon
May 1: RIM unveils a newly designed smartphone prototype powered by its upcoming BlackBerry 10 system. The prototype BlackBerry has a touch screen, but no physical keyboard like most BlackBerry models. No update was given on the new system's launch date
June 20: RIM lays off employees as part of a restructuring plan aimed at saving about $1 billion in 2012
June 28: Cuts 5,000 jobs, about 30 percent of its workforce, and delays the launch of BlackBerry 10 to the first quarter of 2013
June 29: Stock hits nine-year low
July 10: At RIM's annual shareholders meet, Heins asks disgruntled investors for patience as the company develops new devices to rival the iPhone and Android smartphones.
Nov 12: RIM holds an official launch event for BlackBerry 10 smartphones on Jan 30
Nov 28: Nokia says it is suing RIM for breach of contract in Britain, US and Canada over cellular patents the two companies agreed on nine years ago
Nov 29: RIM's stock rises after Goldman Sachs upgrades the company's shares, saying there's a "30% chance" that BlackBerry 10 smartphones will be a success
Dec 20: RIM loses subscribers for the first time in the latest quarter, as the global number of BlackBerry users dipped to 79 million