Tech • Long-overdue devices critical to embattled company's future.
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It's make or break time for the company formerly known as Research in Motion, the maker of the once-ubiquitous Blackberry phones.
The Canadian company on Wednesday debuted the next generation of its mobile phones in hopes the new hardware and software that operates them will turn the failing company around.
"We definitely have been in a journey of transformation," said President and CEO Thorsten Heins.
Heins unveiled the BlackBerry Z10, a full 4.3-inch touchscreen phone, and the BlackBerry Q10, a touchscreen phone that also includes a physical keyboard. Both new handsets are powered by a completely new operating system called BlackBerry 10 that allows the user to move between applications seamlessly. Wednesday's announcement was made in New York and simulcast in London, Dubai, Toronto, Paris and Johannesburg.
RIM is promising a speedier device, a superb typing experience and the ability to keep work and personal identities separate on the same phone.
The Z10 will be available in March through all four major U.S. cell carriers Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. It will cost about $200 with a two-year contract, but individual carriers will determine the final pricing. No release dates or cost information were announced for the Q10 phone.
Most analysts consider a BlackBerry 10 success to be crucial for the company's long-term viability. "We'll see if they can reclaim their glory. My sense is that it will be a phone that everyone says good things about but not as many people buy," said BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis.
As part of the company's overall makeover, Heins also announced that Research in Motion will officially be called BlackBerry. It will have the ticker symbol "BBRY" on the Nasdaq Stock Market. He said that Grammy-winning artist Alicia Keys would be Global Creative Director for BlackBerry, a role in which she'll work with app developers and entrepreneurs to help lead the direction of the BlackBerry 10 platform.
At one time, RIM, like Nokia, was a leader in mobile phones, the favored handsets of business people and government employees for the security of RIM's BlackBerry Messenger email service.
But RIM lost cell phone market share to Apple and Android handsets in the past five years as those manufacturers began innovating with touchscreen phones and operating systems. RIM initially said BlackBerry 10 would come by early 2012, but then the company changed that to late 2012. A few months later, that date was pushed further, to early 2013, missing the lucrative holiday season. The holdup helped wipe out more than $70 billion in shareholder wealth and 5,000 jobs.
RIM's stock remains down about 5.2 percent, at $14.85, in midday trading. The stock has traded in the range of $6.22 to $18.32 in the past 52 weeks.
But BlackBerry fans or "crackberry" addicts, as they are known - have been clinging to the idea that BlackBerry could return to greatness with the new set of phones and operating system.
Previews of the BlackBerry 10 software have gotten favorable reviews on blogs. Financial analysts are starting to see some slight room for a comeback. With smartphone sales growing, the BlackBerry 10 can succeed without iPhone and Android users switching.
The new BlackBerry models tout features that allow users to multitask and move from application to application without shutting down an app. BlackBerry Peek, as the name implies, enables users to peek at another application, say email, without completely leaving the app they're using.
The company also introduced a gesture-based touchscreen keyboard for the Z10 with which users can go from one language to another or correct misspellings with just a single swipe of the thumb. And the BlackBerry Balance feature separates personal information from work information. Users can switch profiles with just the push of an onscreen button, and data from both can be integrated.
Also included are new features for the BlackBerry Messenger service, which is said to have 60 million subscribers. One allows separate users to share screen information in real time so they can review documents, presentations or photos.
The phones also have a new camera feature called Timeshift that allows users to capture a multisecond moment of a scene instead of just one picture so they can choose the right pose for the final photo. Built into the phone is a new app, Story Maker, which can automatically edit photos, videos and songs into a presentation.
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. The company claims that the phone will have 70,000 applications available, although not all at the product's launch. Some of the most-wanted apps, including Skype, Facebook and Foursquare, are being developed for the platform.
The number of apps available could be a serious sticking point to lure new users when rival Apple boasts more than 775,000 and Android claims more than 700,000.
BlackBerry also announced a music and movie store, BlackBerry World, that will include multimedia content that can be purchased for the phones.
The Associated Press contributed to this story
Google+: +Vincent Horiuchi
Comparison of smartphone, tablet shipments
BlackBerry devices have been losing market share to rivals. Here are details on the number of devices RIM and Apple shipped in recent quarters, with percentage change from the same period a year earlier.
Research in Motion
Quarter ending Dec. 1, 2012: 6.9 million BlackBerry smartphones (down 51 percent), 255,000 PlayBook tablets (up 70 percent)
Quarter ending Sept. 1, 2012: 7.4 million BlackBerrys (down 30 percent), 130,000 PlayBooks (down 35 percent)
Quarter ending June 2, 2012: 7.8 million BlackBerrys (down 41 percent), 260,000 PlayBooks (down 48 percent)
Quarter ending March 3, 2012: 11.1 million BlackBerrys (down 26 percent), 500,000 PlayBooks (not on sale previous year)
Quarter ending Nov. 26, 2011: 14.1 million BlackBerrys (down 1 percent), 150,000 PlayBooks (not on sale previous year)
Quarter ending Dec. 29, 2012: 47.8 million iPhones (up 29 percent), 22.9 million iPads (up 49 percent)
Quarter ending Sept. 29, 2012: 26.9 million iPhones (up 58 percent), 14.0 million iPads (up 26 percent)
Quarter ending June 30, 2012: 26.0 million iPhones (up 28 percent), 17.0 million iPads (up 84 percent)
Quarter ending March 31, 2012: 35.1 million iPhones (up 88 percent), 11.8 million iPads (increase of 2.5 times)
Quarter ending Dec. 31, 2011: 37 million iPhones (more than double), 15.4 million iPads (more than double)
Key features, dates for new BlackBerry
Z10 phone will have a touch-screen keyboard
Q10 phone will have a physical keyboard, as well
Both phones sport a new BlackBerry 10 operating system with new features
Z10 will be released in the U.K. and Canada within the week, but not in the U.S. until March.
Price for the Z10 will be about $200 with two-year contract in the U.S., but carriers will set individual pricing
Q10 won't be available in the U.S. until at least April
Maker Research in Motion, based in Ontario, is changing the company's name to BlackBerry