BlackBerry Bets Its Future on New Touch Screens ; with Revamped Phones and Name, It Aims to Lure Back Corporate Customers

By Austen, Ian | International Herald Tribune, January 31, 2013 | Go to article overview

BlackBerry Bets Its Future on New Touch Screens ; with Revamped Phones and Name, It Aims to Lure Back Corporate Customers


Austen, Ian, International Herald Tribune


The long-awaited smartphone has been designed to retain, and bring back, the corporate users who once propelled the BlackBerry maker to success.

The maker of the BlackBerry introduced a new operating system and a new line of telephones on Wednesday, along with a new corporate name, in the hope of restoring its products' status as a symbol of executive cool.

Analysts, technology reviewers and app developers with advance access to the BlackBerry Z10 and the BlackBerry 10 operating system have said it is the company's first competitive touch-screen phone. But BlackBerry 10 arrives long after Apple's iPhone and phones using Google's Android operating system have come to dominate the smartphone market that the BlackBerry effectively created.

International Data Corp., a research firm, says BlackBerry now holds just 4.6 percent of that market, about a tenth of its historic peak.

To emphasize the changes brought by the new operating system, Thorsten Heins, who took over as chief executive a year ago, said the company, Research In Motion, had adopted BlackBerry as its corporate name. Its Nasdaq trading symbol will become BBRY, and it will trade as BB in Toronto.

In addition to the BlackBerry Z10 phone, there will be a second model, the Q10, that includes one of the line's signature physical keyboards. In the United States, where the phone will be available in March, Verizon Wireless announced that it would sell the Z10 for $200 with a two-year contract. It will also be carried by AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

BlackBerry said the Z10 would be available in Britain on Thursday and in Canada on Feb. 5.

"Today represents a new day in the history of BlackBerry," Mr. Heins said. "These BlackBerry 10 devices are absolutely the best typing experiences in the industry."

There were few surprises in the initial portion of Mr. Heins's presentation. The company had started demonstrating the touch- screen phone and operating system in May and also made prototypes available to app developers at the time. In recent weeks, photographs of the final version of the phones have made their way to various American and European technology Web sites.

Physically, the Z10 resembles an iPhone 5 with its corners snipped off.

But unlike its competitors, the Z10 lacks a button to take users back to a home page and relies entirely on people swiping their fingers across the 4.2-inch, or 10.7-centimeter, screen from different directions to summon features or menus.

While the Z10 lacks a physical keyboard, the main attraction of BlackBerrys for many current users, the company said it had developed software that would alleviate some of the inadequacies of on-screen typing. According to BlackBerry, its software studies a person's common typing mistakes over time and starts automatically correcting them. It will also build up a list of commonly used words and offer them as suggestions that can be selected with a flick of a finger.

While developing the new operating system, the company took great pains to improve its strained relationship with app developers. The operating system was also designed in a way that allows them to adapt Android apps for BlackBerry 10 by making some relatively minor modifications.

BlackBerry said Wednesday that more than 70,000 BlackBerry 10 apps were now available.

For corporate and government users, BlackBerry 10 server software will allow them to divide employees' BlackBerry 10 phones into separate work and personal spheres and give I.T. managers complete control over the former.

But Frank Mersch, who became one of the company's earliest investors, is far less excited by what he sees this time around.

"You're in a very, very competitive market, and you're not the leader," Mr. Mersch, now the chairman and a vice president at Front Street Capital in Toronto, said of BlackBerry. "You have to ask: 'At the end of the day, are we really going to win?' I personally think the jury's out on that. …

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