Research in Motion (RIM) is no more.
In an unexpected move, the company officially changed its name on Wednesday to that of its flagship mobile brand BlackBerry, before unveiling the first two smartphones running the company’s new operating system, BlackBerry 10.
“From this point forward, RIM becomes BlackBerry…it is one brand, one promise,” CEO Thorsten Heins said before a crowd in New York City, one of eight separate events around the globe held to celebrate the launch of the much anticipated BlackBerry 10 software.
Heins, who took over the helm of the company just over a year ago, showed off the first two BlackBerry 10 devices. The first to ship of the two is the BlackBerry Z10, an all touchscreen smartphone will be available in the U.S. in March ($199.99 at Verizon, unpriced at AT&T and T-Mobile), in the U.K. on Thursday, and in Canada, BlackBerry’s home country, on February 5, where it will retail for $149.99.
Check out a promotional image of the BlackBerry Z10 below:
Details about the second new smartphone, the BlackBerry Q10, which is a touchscreen phone that comes with a physical, “QWERTY” keyboard similar to older BlackBerry devices, are less clear. The phone is due out in April, according to BlackBerry’s website, but an exact release date and pricing remain to be seen. Sprint and AT&T said it would offer the device in the U.S.
Check out a promotional image of the BlackBerry Q10 below:
Heins and other BlackBerry executives also spent time at the unveiling event going over BlackBerry 10’s unique features, among them: “BlackBerry Balance,” which offers distinct profiles for a user’s “Work” and “Personal” apps and settings on their phones, which users can easily and quickly switch between using a pull down gesture from the top of the screen.
BlackBerry 10 also offers added functionality to one of BlackBerry’s most popular longstanding features, BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM. Formerly a free texting service done over BlackBerry’s servers (no charge from carriers), BBM has been expanded to include video calling and contains a feature called Screen Share, which allows users to switch from broadcasting through the front-facing camera on their devices to a live image of the device screen itself, which BlackBerry executives noted would be helpful for such tasks as collaborating on work documents or for showing photos. (Promotional video below):
The new camera software was also promoted as a differentiator from competing smartphones. One mode called Time Shift takes a number of photo views over a brief few seconds, then gives users the option to slide between them to select the best one. BlackBerry 10 includes a built-in editing app called Story Maker that allows users to sync photos, videos and music and share through social networks (promo video below):
Finally, BlackBerry 10 also addresses the divisive issue of the keyboard. For the past half-decade or longer, ardent BlackBerry fans have adamantly maintained that physical push-button keyboards are superior to their all-digital touchscreen counterparts in terms of speed, accuracy and general ease of use. But the popularity of Apple’s iPhone and Android smartphones such as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus SIII indicate that general smartphone consumers don’t necessarily agree. BlackBerry is seeking to satisfy both by launching one phone with a physical keyboard and one without.
But BlackBerry still strove to make typing on the all-touchscreen BlackBerry Z10 and upcoming devices a distinct experience, with software that gives users a list of commonly-used words at the base of the screen after they have typed a few letters, then allows them to flick those words directly up to the typing space, theoretically saving time and keystrokes.
Following and expanding upon a trend seen in Apple’s recent iOS software updates, BlackBerry 10 includes built-in options for saving text from websites and apps for reading later. Called “BlackBerry Remember,” the new feature on BlackBerry 10 goes a step further and gives users the ability to save all types of content to a single app. Here’s a promo video:
As for third-party apps, BlackBerry was careful to point out that its BlackBerry World app store contains 70,000 apps at launch, including such popular favorites from other app stores as Angry Birds, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare, Skype and Amazon’s Kindle app. At the same time, it is conspicuously missing Instagram and Netflix (though a BlackBerry spokesperson told All Things D the company is in talks about acquiring those apps).
Several times during the presentation, BlackBerry executives highlighted that they had secured agreements for video content from all 8 major movie studios: News Corporation, Disney, Viacom, Sony, Time Warner and NBC Universal.
BlackBerry software developers and tech writers received demo models of the BlackBerry Z10 days or weeks ago, and have already offered their initial reviews of the device. Many initial reviews call the Z10 promising, but caution that it could be too late in the game and offer too few distinct features to lure consumers away from Apple’s iPhone and other smartphones running Google’s Android software.
The BlackBerry line of devices pioneered the smartphone era and quickly became the most popular type of smartphones in the U.S. in terms of market share, a title held through 2009. But Apple’s iPhone and iOS software, released in 2007, and Google’s Android OS, released in 2008, have since become the top two smartphone platforms in the U.S. and around the globe, and show no signs of slowing down.
BlackBerry is attempting a comeback at a time when the mobile device market is becoming even more crowded with competitors — from Microsoft’s attempt to provide a unifying experience across desktop PCs and mobile devices with the launch of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 late last year, to new mobile software recently shown off by open-source companies Mozilla (makers of the Firefox browser) and Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu Linux).
Perhaps that’s partially why BlackBerry also took time a big chunk of time out of its presentation Wednesday to introduce its newly appointed global creative director: Grammy-award winning musician Alicia Keys.
Keys said she would be working within the company and with others outside of it, in the entertainment industry, to promote the BlackBerry 10 brand, describing her own hot-and-cold relationship with her BlackBerry in terms of that of a romantic relationship, saying she’d been impressed with “sexier” smartphones but had now recommitted to BlackBerry. Whether consumers will follow suit remains to be seen. Wall Street, initially, was not impressed, with RIM stock trading down after the unveiling (RIM’s ticker symbol will be changed from RIMM to BBRY).
Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated that the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone would be available in the U.S. on all carriers for $149.99. In fact, the $149.99 price is only available in Canada at this time, and not all four U.S. carriers will be offering the Z10 (Sprint said it would only carry the Q10). We have since corrected the errors in copy and regret them.