NEW YORK — Research In Motion Ltd. unveiled new, versatile BlackBerrys after excruciating delays allowed Apple, Samsung and others to build commanding leads in an industry that is redefining society. But the first phone won’t come out in the U.S. until March.
The stock fell 12 percent, despite mostly positive reviews about the new operating system. There’s concern the phone isn’t coming out sooner, and there’s worry BlackBerry 10’s advances won’t be enough to turn the company around.
In a move underscoring the stakes riding on its make-or-break product lineup, RIM used the occasion to announce that it is changing the company’s name to BlackBerry. It’s a pioneering brand that lost its cachet not long after Apple’s 2007 release of the iPhone, which reset expectations for what a smartphone should do.
Pioneered in 1999, BlackBerry became a breakthrough in personal connectedness. It changed the culture by allowing on-the-go business people to access wireless email. It was so addictive at times it was nicknamed “the CrackBerry.”
As the BlackBerry began to cross over to consumers, rivals came out with a new generation of phones that could do more than just email and messaging. Suddenly, the BlackBerry looked ancient.
RIM promised a new system to catch up. But it has taken more than two years to unveil new phones that are redesigned for the new multimedia, Internet browsing and apps experience that customers are now demanding.
CEO Thorsten Heins, who one year ago replaced longtime executives who had presided over BlackBerry’s fall, unveiled the much-delayed smartphones and software Wednesday.
The first device will be the Z10. As previously disclosed, it will have only a touch-screen keyboard, like Apple’s iPhone and most phones running Android.
The Q10 will follow and will have a physical keyboard, a feature that has kept BlackBerry users loyal over the years because it makes typing easier. RIM said the Q10 will start going on sale on some global carriers in April, but it couldn’t say when U.S. carriers will have it.
Heins said U.S. carriers need more time to test the devices. All the major U.S. carriers plan to sell the new BlackBerrys. Verizon Wireless said the Z10 will be available for $200 with a two-year service agreement, in line with what other major smartphones cost. In Canada, it will cost about $150 with a three-year contract.
Frank Boulben, RIM’s chief marketing officer, said some of the delay in the U.S. stems from specific testing requirements imposed by the Federal Communications Commission.
The U.S. has been one market in which RIM has been particularly hurting, even as the company is doing well in many places overseas. According to research firm IDC, shipments of BlackBerry phones plummeted from 46 percent of the U.S. market in 2008 to 2 percent in 2012.
BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis said the new phones’ tardy arrival in the U.S. threatens to cause even more BlackBerry users to defect. By the time the Z10 goes on sale in the U.S., Gillis suspects many people will be waiting to see what Google plans to unveil in mid-May at an annual conference.
Despite their limited availability until March, the new BlackBerrys will be hailed in a commercial Sunday during the Super Bowl. RIM said the spot is designed to signal to U.S. customers that the BlackBerry is back.
RIM also decided to make a touch-only version first, despite its strength with physical keyboards, in hopes of luring new customers.
“The idea that we are launching BlackBerry 10 just to upgrade the existing physical keyboard customer base is wrong,” Boulben said. “The new platform we are introducing will have much wider appeal on the market. It’s for all the people looking for the next generation in smartphone experience.”
The touch-screen keyboard itself promises such improvements as learning a user’s writing style and suggesting words and phrases to complete, going beyond typo corrections offered by rivals.
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