Research In Motion launched two BlackBerry 10 smartphones Wednesday, banking on the hotly anticipated line of devices to save the company.
CEO Thorsten Heins kicked off simultaneous live events in New York, Toronto, London, Paris, Dubai, Johannesburg, Jakarta and Delhi, with the announcement that the company and its ubiquitous product were becoming one and the same — the company has renamed itself BlackBerry.
Heins unveiled a line of new smartphones the company says will help it win back market share in the competitive mobile space.
More BlackBerry coverage
- TONIGHT ON THE NATIONAL: Adrienne Arsenault's look inside RIM headquarters where programmers hope their work on the BlackBerry 10 smartphone will spawn a comeback.
- BlackBerry tries to shed their staid, boring image by naming singer Alicia Keys their global creative director.
- Watch a replay of CBC's liveblog of the BlackBerry launch.
- CBC News has launched a new app that works on the BlackBerry 10 platform.
- THE CURRENT: Is national pride at stake in BlackBerry's reinvention?
RIM launched two versions of the phone on Wednesday, the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10. The former is a touchscreen device, the latter has a full Qwerty keyboard.
"We know there are a lot of keyboard lovers out there," Heins said. "We heard you loud and clear."
In Canada, the touchscreen BlackBerry Z10 will be available on Feb. 5. Pricing will vary by carrier partner, but it will retail for around $149.99 on a three-year contract, BlackBerry announced Wednesday.
The Q10 will be available here in April, BlackBerry says, but pricing and availability information on that version wasn't immediately provided at the launch event Wednesday.
Canada will be the launch pad for the devices ahead of other markets, including the United States. Other countries have launch dates on Feb. 11. The U.S. launch date for the initial touchscreen version is some time in March, but BlackBerry declined to offer any further details.
Telecom analyst Tony Crandall said the delayed U.S. launch is a big disadvantage to BlackBerry.
"It is a very, very important market to be in, and it's where they have lost ground," Crandall said in a CBC interview, adding that the six-week delay will allow competitors to steal BlackBerry's thunder.
"You're going to see them lose a bit of their voice because of the marketing from some of the competitors in the U.S."
Among the features on the devices are something the company is calling BlackBerry Balance, which will allow one machine to be switched between work and personal user accounts.
The company is pitching the technology as a way for consumers to be able to have only one device with multiple personas — a personal one full of apps and tools for personal use, and a corporate one that can safely house sensitive corporate material.
"You can just switch from work to personal mode," Scotiabank analyst Gus Papageorgiou said. "I think that is something that will attract a lot of people," he said.
BlackBerry says Balance will let you install all the apps you want on your personal side, but your company's IT department can keep the work side locked down and fully secure, keeping data safe.
"If the phone is lost, the IT department can immediately wipe the work side of the phone remotely, leaving the personal side alone in case the phone is found," the company's senior director for enterprise product management Jeff Holleran said in an interview with CBC News.
Another feature is BlackBerry Flow, a technology that will allow the user to swipe between multiple apps with the touch of a finger. That's something the current round of BlackBerry phones haven't been able to do, but it's seen as key in the multitasking environment.
Predictive text in 3 languages
Heins also revealed another detail: BlackBerry 10 models will have the ability to do predictive text in up to three languages. In the device's settings. the user can pick and choose which languages to use.
That function appears to take text recognition to the next level, where instead of taking an educated guess what word you want to use and remembering your choice in the future, it will provide a series of logical possible options.
A test of the feature by BlackBerry executive Vivek Bhardwajat the New York launch turned the letters "b,l,a,c" into the options of "BlackBerry," "blackboard" and "blackjack" at the swipe of a thumb.
The company has also revamped its web browser to the point where it competes with those available on iPhones, Android or Windows phones. It also boasts the BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging technology that helped make BlackBerrys so popular in the first place.
The company has also added the ability to do video chat over the secure BBM network. Heins and other executives showed off the new models' ability to share screens and information with other BlackBerry users.
The company has upgraded its app store and called it BlackBerry World, which will have more than 70,000 applications at launch. That's barely a tenth of what's available in Apple's App Store, or on Google Play, but it's a step toward bridging the gap.
The device's new camera has a feature the company is calling TimeShift, whereby it effectively takes a short video around any picture taken, allowing the user to fast-forward or rewind through time, to ensure the exact right moment gets captured. The company says its camera has more pixels per inch than the latest iPhone model, and comes with the now-industry-standard two cameras — one facing the front and one the back.
Possible PlayBook update?
Holleran also hinted plans may be in the works to possibly update the PlayBook tablet retroactively to make it compatible with BlackBerry's new functions.
"We intend to bring BlackBerry 10 functionality to the Playbook," Holleran told CBC News. "I can’t reveal details about exactly when, but I can tell you that the Playbook picking up the BB10 code line is definitely on the roadmap for the future."
In a nod to the company's staid reputation, Heins also revealed another surprise at the launch event. Award-winning recording artist Alicia Keys has signed on to be what the company is calling a "global creative director."
Keys' role will be focused on helping the company gain traction with content creators in the music and entertainment industry. She says she's going to use the device to make unique music videos of the concerts in every stage of her upcoming world tour.
"It's got the ability to start to create some buzz around RIM again," Queen's University business professor Barry Cross said.
After pioneering the smartphone concept in the early 2000s, RIM has seen its grasp on the sector slowly erode since Apple released the iPhone in 2007 and several manufacturers followed quickly to market with Android-powered devices tailored to the consumer market.
"They're not really perceived as being hip or cool," Cross says of the company's recent woes.
From a high of over $150 in the summer of 2008, RIM shares fell steadily to the $6 range on the TSX as recently as September before a round of analyst optimism over RIM's chances with BB10 pushed the stock into the teens.
RIM shares have been on a tear since September, almost tripling in value after a new round of optimism surrounding the company's prospects. But investors' initial reaction to the launch was underwhelming on Wednesday, with RIM ending the trading day down 11 per cent to $13.86 on the TSX.
Recent data suggests RIM has less than five per cent of the North American market share, and the company has pinned its hopes on BlackBerry 10 to halt that slide and take back the dominance it once had.
"I think they've got something here," Cross said. "I've been a big fan of RIM for a lot of years, and hopefully this is the first step in their comeback story."