After lengthy delays, Research In Motion Ltd. unveiled its first two phones with the new BlackBerry 10 system. The Q10 will have a physical keyboard, while the Z10 has only a touch-screen keyboard. RIM says it will also change its name to BlackBerry to maintain a single brand. It will have the ticker symbol "BBRY" on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
RIM redesigned the BlackBerry system to embrace the multimedia, apps and touch-screen experience prevalent today. The question is whether there's time for the once-pioneering BlackBerry to catch up to Apple's trend-setting iPhone and devices running Google's Android system.
RIM CEO Thorsten Heins hosted the main event in New York. Video of his appearance was shown at other RIM events in Toronto, London, Paris, Dubai, Johannesburg, New Delhi and Jakarta, Indonesia.
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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 had shown off prototypes and previews before. Wednesday's event was the first time RIM showed off a complete product and announced some details on availability.
Most analysts consider a BlackBerry 10 success to be crucial for the company's long-term viability.
RIM is promising a speedier device, a superb typing experience and the ability to keep work and personal identities separate on the same phone. 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.
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.
Here's a running account of the BlackBerry 10 event, presented in reverse chronological order. All times are EST. Besides Heins, presenters include Alec Saunders, vice president of developer relations, and Martyn Mallick, vice president of global alliances. Frank Boulben, chief marketing officer, joined in a question-and-answer session with reporters.
Adam Leach, principal analyst at research firm Ovum, calls the new system "well-designed" and says the new phones should appeal to existing BlackBerry users. But he says RIM "will struggle to appeal to a wider audience, and in the long-term will become a niche player in the smartphone market."
Malik Saadi, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, offers praise for the Z10 and the fact that with the new system, messaging and other services "are always just one gesture away from the user regardless of the other tasks the phone is performing."
But because the user experience is changing, Saadi says, RIM may struggle at first winning over consumers. He adds, "The minimalistic design of the phone means it does not feature the traditional physical 'buttons' users are accustomed to — the home button, the back button and the search button. Instead the phone relies predominantly on soft touch and gesture for navigation."
RIM announces availability in additional markets. Most of Latin America should have it by the end of March. Venezuela is getting it March. 10.
In the U.S., all the major carriers are getting it — AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA.
RIM previous announced that it is planning a commercial during the Super Bowl this weekend. Boulben says it's to signal to U.S. customers that the BlackBerry is back.
Although BlackBerry remains popular in many parts of the world, sales have been weak in North America. 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.
RIM plans to continue making the PlayBook tablet despite lackluster sales. The company says it will focus on industries such as finance and health care, where RIM can provide value-added services beyond hardware. An upgrade is planned so that existing PlayBooks will get the new BlackBerry 10 system, too.
So how to pronounce the new Z10? It's being called "zed-10" around the world — but "zee-10" in the U.S.
During a question-and-answer session, RIM executives say that some 1,600 companies have been testing the new system.
There's no firm timeframe on the Q10 model, with the physical keyboard, but Heins says he's hoping it will be ready in April.
As for the Z10, Heins says it will have about one day of battery life, but the battery will be removable so you can add a spare one.
Some of the initial reaction is lukewarm. Jefferies analyst Peter Misek calls the unveiling good, but not great. But he says "we didn't get any negative surprises."
Event wraps up. RIM says it's giving all audience members a Z10 to go.
RIM's stock remains down — about 5.3 percent, at $14.83. It had traded as low as $14.41 earlier as the event took place. It had been up more than 3 percent before the event, with a high for the day of $16.62.
The stock has traded in the range of $6.22 to $18.32 in the past 52 weeks. It's up about 24 percent so far this year, compared with less than 6 percent for the S&P 500 index.
RIM brings out singer Alicia Keys, who says she had been in a "long-term relationship" with the BlackBerry, but saw more attractive smartphones at the gym. She says that with the new phone, with new features, "we're exclusively dating again."
Heins says the Z10 — which he's pronouncing "zed-10" — will be out in the U.K. on Thursday, in Canada on Feb. 5 and in the U.S. in March. Prices will vary by carrier, but they will be around $150 with a three-year service contract in Canada. Testing with U.S. carriers is continuing.
He didn't say when the Q10, with the physical keyboard, will be out or for how much.
Mallick talks about some of the apps that are coming to the BlackBerry, including Skype video calling, Kindle e-reader and the "Angry Birds" game. It's also getting social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. He says RIM made a push to get the most heavily used apps on the BlackBerry 10.
More than 70,000 apps will be available. That includes some developed for RIM's PlayBook tablet, first released in 2011. Even so, that's just a tenth of what the iPhone and Android offer. Popular service such as Instagram and Netflix won't have apps on BlackBerry 10.
RIM demonstrates the 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. It's a previously announced feature.
RIM also unveils the ability to share your entire screen with other users using a feature called BBM Screen Share.
RIM's stock drops further to $14.68, down 6.3 percent.
On stage, executives demonstrate the BlackBerry Hub. You can send a Twitter message straight from it, and it integrates LinkedIn. It also integrates your contacts.
The BlackBerry will emphasize typing with one thumb, with gestures and the ability to delete with a thumb swipe anywhere. It will also recognize if you switch languages in the middle of the email, which could be popular in India and other markets where the BlackBerry is still strong.
RIM's stock is down 39 cents, or 2.5 percent, at $15.27.
The Q10 has a squarish screen measuring 3.1 inches diagonally. The Z10 will have a 4.2-inch screen for a cinematic experience. Heins says the back is textured so that it will be comfortable to hold.
Heins introduces two new phones — the Z10 and the Q10. The Q10 has a physical keyboard, a feature that has kept BlackBerry users loyal over the years. The Z10 will have only a touch-screen keyboard.
Heins says, "''we know there is a lot of physical keyboard lovers out there."
Heins says the company will change its name to BlackBerry in order to maintain one brand and one promise.
Heins says the new BlackBerry is being built for people who are "hyper-connected socially." He says it's aimed at people who need balance in their personal and professional lives. Heins made similar remarks when he previewed the BlackBerry 10 at a September speech in San Jose, Calif.
Heins thanks RIM founder Mike Lazaridis and long-time executive Jim Balsillie, who were co-CEOs until Heins took over the helm a year ago. Lazaridis is in the audience in New York and stands up.
Heins, who became RIM's CEO last January, says "It has been easily the most challenging year of my career to date." He thanks employees and proclaims, "BlackBerry 10 is here." But he says the launch is just the beginning.
Heins appears on stage.
Saunders touts the amount of work done by RIM's outside developers. He says BlackBerry 10 is launching with the largest-ever catalog of apps for a new phone operating system.
The event in New York begins with a look at BlackBerry 10 events elsewhere through videoconferencing. Customer testimonials follow.
Several hundred people await the start of the event, which is being held in a large warehouse-like entertainment venue on the shore of New York's East River.