RIM’s big day: Meet the BlackBerry Z10. Is it enough?

A new company name, two new handsets.

Research In Motion is gone, the company now calls itself BlackBerry.

That’s how the Waterloo-Ont., based smart phone firm is going out into the world as of today with its new Z10 touch screen handset and Q10 handset with a physical keyboard on the next generation BlackBerry 10 platform.

That’s how it is kickstarting its bid to get back into the smart phone battle.

The BlackBerry Z10.

The Z10, with a 4.2-in screen, will be available in Canada on Feb. 5 from carriers for $149.99 on a three year contract and $650 without a contract. There was no word on when the Q10, with its 3.1-in screen, will be out. Both handsets run on LTE and HSPA+ networks and have 1.5 GHz dual core processors, 2 GB of RAM and 16 MB of internal storage as well as an expandable memory card slot.

The Q10 differs not only with its keyboard, but it also has a back cover made from what CEO Thorsten Heins said is a unique material that’s lighter but harder than plastic.

In an hour-long global telecast, Heins and staff touted the new platforms capabilities, its unique materials, and, to show how cool the platform is anointed singer Alicia Keys as the company’s global creative director to get hot video directors and writers to show off BB10.

But Heins made it clear that a big show and flashy devices aren’t enough.

The BlackBerry Q10.

“Today is not the finish line, it’s the starting line,” he warned the company’s 12,000 employees. “The future is still hard work”

Many of the features have been revealed already – the ability to have several applications running at once; Hub, the one-stop messaging centre; the digital keyboard that predicts the words you want before you finish typing; Peek, the ability to preview email; the camera that takes multiple shots to almost eliminate closed eyes – and Heins has promised that he’s kept something back for a big splash.

For organizations, a new BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 mobile management suite has just been released that can not only handle BlackBerrys but also Apple iPhones, iPads and Android-based smart phones and tablets.

The launch will also kick off a furious sales and marketing effort by RIM staff, including a three month, 14-city global blitz to convince customers, developers and channel partners the platform is worth investing in.

Heins will bask in the spotlight.

But the moment will also kick off the company’s race to solidify its shaky future.

For the past year RIM has been bleeding red ink. Not fatally, but enough to make investors dump stock (although there has been a rally in recent weeks).

Once loyal customers have also been departing for cooler, large-screen Apple iPhones and Android-powered handsets, particularly Samsung’s Galaxy S III, making its global market share drop and its share in the U.S plunge.

Technologically, RIM has been left behind as buyers sought platforms that offer access thousands more mobile applications, music and videos.

In turn, corporations have opened up to other smart phones, meaning once-reliable sales have vanished.

This has created a creaky foundation for RIM: Software developers shy away from BlackBerry 6 and 7 operating systems, CIOs and IT managers drop support and carriers unenthusiastically carry its products.

To some degree, former RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis recognized the need to overhaul the Java-based BB6/7 and in 2010 bought an Ottawa company called QNX Systems, which made a rugged operating system used in high-end cars and nuclear reactors.

But the next-generation platform aimed at rescuing the company, now known as BlackBerry 10, is a year behind its promised launch.

That year has been costly – Lazaridis and co-CEO Jim Balsillie are no longer around. RIM has been forced to slash staff and $1 billion. And it is contemplating almost every option including licencing BB10 to other handset makers, getting out of the handset-making business altogether, and, if the right offer comes along, being bought and possibly taken apart.

BB10 lets RIM keep up with and possibly step ahead of Apple and Samsung.

But in an age when, as one Canadian business writer once said, the only companies are the quick and the dead – especially apt in the furious mobile industry – is it too little too late?

Not according to Bryan Lee, RIM’s director of U.S. enterprise accounts. “It’s a new future for us,” he said in a pre-launch interview.

Lee and his staff have been involve in two pre-launch programs: A technical review for 130 select large organizations that helps them install BES 10 and use early versions of the handset; and an open ready program for all-comers (1,600 signed up) that lets them trade in client licences for older BlackBerry Enterprise Service for BES 10 and advises them on installing it.

Customers in the program have received BES 10 very well, he reports, and are enthusiastic about the handset capabilities.

Still, Mark Tauschek, lead research analyst Info-Tech Research, says the company’s Canadian corporate and government customers are largely in “wait and see” mode before getting behind the new platform.

“I think in a lot of cases they’re more concerned about the overall health of the company than they are about BB10 and new devices.”

“What I’m telling them that the one compelling thing about BB10 is how they’ve integrated BlackBerry Balance with BES 10,” which lets users separate personal and corporate data on handsets. It means subscribers don’t have to carry separate devices, and it adds to security.

“That is for me the biggest opportunity for RIM to enterprises.”

Some 18 million of RIM’s 79 million subscribers are enterprise customers. It’s vital these upgrade their handsets as soon as possible to BB10. RIM’s second target are so-called pro-sumers who are willing to pay for a leading edge handset.

To give an idea of RIM [TSX: RIM] sales, remember that in the fiscal quarter that ended Dec. 1, it shipped 6.9 million BB6/7 handsets in three months. It shipped 7.4 million in the quarter before that.

For its most recent fiscal quarter – that included Christmas – Apple sold a record 47.8 million iPhones (and many investors were disappointed – go figure).

We’ll likely know before the end of the year if BB10 is RIM’s savior.

(Editor’s note: Legally the company will still be called RIM until July when the name change is official)

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer. Former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, Howard has written for several of ITWC's sister publications, including ITBusiness.ca. Before arriving at ITWC he served as a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times.

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