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BlackBerry reboots, rebrands in bid to reinvent

John Biers
Blackberry, formerly Research in Motion, CEO Thorsten Heins, officially unveils the BlackBerry 10 mobile platform as well as two new devices January 30, 2013 at the New York City Launch at Pier 36. BlackBerry launched its comeback effort Wednesday with a revamped platform and a pair of sleek new handsets, along with a company name change as part of a move to reinvent the smartphone maker

BlackBerry launched its comeback effort with a revamped platform and a pair of sleek new handsets, along with a company name change as part of a move to reinvent the smartphone maker.

Canadian-based Research in Motion said it changed its name to BlackBerry as it launched the BlackBerry 10, the new platform aimed at helping the firm regain traction in a market now dominated by rivals.

"From this point forward RIM becomes BlackBerry," chief executive Thorsten Heins told a glitzy unveiling in New York, one of six global events for the launch. "It is one brand, it is one promise."

The company presented two new devices for its new platform, one with a physical keyboard called the Q10, and a touchscreen handset dubbed Z10.

The new BlackBerry "will transform mobile communications into true mobile computing," Heins said.

"Today is a brand new day in the history of BlackBerry."

The launch is seen as critical to BlackBerry, which had been the dominant smartphone maker before Apple launched its iPhone and others began using the Google Android operating system but now holds less than five percent of the global market, according to surveys.

While the new system drew some positive reviews, others noted that the smartphone market is a cutthroat competitive space and questioned whether BlackBerry could make a significant dent.

Joshua Topolsky of the blog The Verge said the new Z10 "mimics the iPhone in more than a couple of ways" and described it as "a fine, handsome phone,"

but it lacked style.

"If BlackBerry wants to spark some kind of excitement about its new hardware design, this device won't get the job done," he said.

Cnet reviewer Jessica Dolcourt said the new BlackBerry 10 platform "comes with many of the world-class features you'd demand" along with tools for security and business users.

But she said the new software "is riddled with perplexing omissions and behavioral inefficiencies that wear on you over time."

The new system got, perhaps unsurprisingly, a positive review from, a website devoted to fans of the firm, and its followers.

"Though BlackBerry 10 has one foot in the past, it reaches out in new directions to finally meet competing platforms head-on," reviewer Simon Sage wrote.

Adam Leach, principal analyst at Ovum, praised the new BlackBerry offering as "a differentiated user experience in today's crowded and homogenous smartphone market" but said the company may have trouble winning back customers and could end up a "niche player."

Tech analyst Jeff Kagan said in a note that he was impressed with the lofty number of applications and the overall impression of the device. But Kagan said it was too soon to say if BlackBerry 10 will emerge as a major competitor to Apple and Google.

"This is the first step in Blackberry's recovery and I think they did a good job so far, but there are still so many more steps," Kagan said. "We'll have to wait and see, but so far, so good."

RIM shares rallied more than 68 percent in between late December and January 25 amid anticipation of the launch. But shares slid 12 percent Wednesday.

The Z10 device will be available as soon as Thursday in some markets, but not until mid-March in the key US market.

Heins told a news conference that the reason for the delay in the US is "a rather lengthy" testing process but noted some carriers are taking pre-orders. Verizon is marketing the phone in the US for $199 with a two-year plan.

The time frame disappointed analysts at Societe Generale, who said the yawning gap between launch-date and US availability "risks dissipating excitement surrounding this launch as the US is a key market for Blackberry."

BlackBerry has traditionally scored best with corporate clients who have been partial to the device's reputation for greater network security.

However, the smartphone market has been changing radically as more companies shift to a "bring your own device," or BYOD, model in which companies let workers choose their smartphone.

BlackBerry aims to target these users with a system that allows for separate spaces on a single device for work and personal data. Such an option means that if a user changes jobs, an employer can disable the device's corporate side without affecting personal data.

Jeff Orr, senior practice director at ABI Research said the split between work and personal space could be a "differentiator" with competitors. "Obviously the proof will be in the implementation," he said.

Other features include the capacity for users to share in real-time screens and complex data from two different locales on a messaging system. The phone also features an efficient writing device in which writers can flick a single character and generate an entire word in English, French, German or other languages. And there is a sophisticated camera system that allows users to tinker with and perfect images.

Heins said the device was geared for "people who are hyper connected socially" and "people who like to get things done."

The new device also starts with some 70,000 applications, including prominent offerings like Amazon's Kindle and LinkedIn.

Besides corporate clients, BlackBerry is targeting creative entrepreneurs and women, especially working mothers who lead a busy life. To that end, the company appointed pop star Alicia Keys as global creative director.