Was the BlackBerry 10 Worth the Wait?
Research in Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) arguably invented the smartphone with its BlackBerry, and the device dominated the market for several years after its release in 2003. But with the launch of more complex handsets, such as Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone and devices that run on Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, RIM’s share of the worldwide smartphone market dropped from 20 percent in 2009 to just 5 percent last year.
In hopes of reviving falling BlackBerry sales and increasing its market share, the company made its first product launch in 18 months on Wednesday with a redesigned operating system and two new phones, the Z10 and the Q10.
Chief executive officer Thorsten Heins took the stage at the company’s event in New York City to announce Research in Motion’s complete transformation: two new phones, a new operating system built from the ground up, a new global creative director, and, in a huge surprise, a new company name.
Research in Motion, the name the company has gone by for 25 years, has been dropped. Instead, the firm will now call itself BlackBerry after its phone. With the name change, the company will be able to begin its journey to a potentially more profitable future “as one consistent brand that is recognized around the world,” Heins said, adding the catchphrase “one brand, one promise.”
In an effort to boost consumers’ excitement for the phone, Heins also announced that the company’s new global creative director would be the singer Alicia Keys. Keys, who likened her use of BlackBerrys to a “long-term relationship,” joined Heins on stage to give the new phones a positive endorsement. While the BlackBerry once lacked the necessary “bling,” she is now committed to the new design.
The two new BlackBerry phones were revealed after a countdown from the company’s more than 12,000 employees was played on a huge screen flanking the stage. BlackBerry’s new operating system showed deep social integration, a newly designed user interface, and a separation between work and personal data. Before the phones were unveiled, Heins explained that the Z10 and the Q10 were designed with a particular customer in mind: one who was hyper-connected socially, demanded simplicity, and wanted to get things done.
Both new BlackBerrys feature software that enables users to move seamlessly between applications, from social networks to video players, with a single upward thumb swipe. All communications, calendar appointments, and social network updates, from Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) to Linkedin (NYSE:LNKD), are centralized in a single hub so that users will not have to return to a home screen to coordinate information from various sources. The main difference between the two phones is the method of typing. The design of the Q10 resembles the original BlackBerry with a physical keyboard, while the Z10 has a sleek, iPhone-inspired shape, with touchscreen typing.
As expected, the Z10 will feature a 4.2-inch, four-point multi-touch LCD display, the BlackBerry 10 operating system, rear- and front-facing cameras, and 2 gigabytes of RAM. The specifications for the Q10 have not yet been released.
Analysts were particularly worried about the range of applications that would be available to BlackBerry 10 users. One reason the phone fell out of favor was because it lagged behind the competition in the number and variety of apps it offered. But the company has built up its app ecosystem and announced that 70,000 apps were launched for the Z10. BlackBerry persuaded numerous developers to design products for both consumer and corporate users and signed on Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Skype, Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle, Angry Birds, and SAP.
The BlackBerry Z10 will be available in the United States in the middle of March, priced at $599, or $199 with a two-year contract with AT&T (NYSE:T), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), Sprint (NYSE:S), or Deutsche Telekom’s (DTEGY.PK) T-Mobile. In the United Kingdom, the phone will go on sale on Thursday and later this week in Canada. The release details for the Q10 will be announced at a later date.
Many analysts consider this launch as BlackBerry’s last chance to compete with the popular operating systems of Apple and Google. Ahead of Wednesday’s event, shares of Research in Motion had risen 37 percent since the beginning of the year and doubled in value over the past three months. But following the unveiling of the new BlackBerrys, shares were down by more than 7 percent. Just before 12:30 p.m. in New York, the stock was trading at $14.47, more than a dollar below its opening price.
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