RIP RIM. Long live BlackBerry.
After numerous delays and development hiccups, RIM has finally unveiled it's next generation BlackBerrys on Wednesday, a new lineup of smartphones that could make or break the company.
The company also dropped its Research in Motion moniker in favor of the BlackBerry brand.
"From today on, we are BlackBerry everywhere in the world," president and CEO Thorstein Heins said. "One brand, one promise."
Heins showed off two new phones at simultaneous events across cities around the world including New York, Toronto, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Jakarta and Dubai.
The Z10 resembles the smartphones most of us have become accustomed to since the dawn of the iPhone with a large 4.2-inch screen while the Q10 maintains the company's iconic physical keyboard, an addition that will surely appeal to the BlackBerry faithful. Both run the company's next generation operating system, BlackBerry 10.
"A good browser, apps, good camera, and fast networking in your smartphone is just expected today," Heins said. "BlackBerry 10 goes beyond that with secure communications, and a real-time platform."
U.S. carriers will announce pre-registration today. Although there are no concrete release dates, the new phones are expected to ship in mid-March. The Z10 is expected to cost $199 with a contract and will be available on Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.
The LTE-ready Z10 comes outfitted with a 4.2-inch 1,280 x 768 display and measures in at 5.13 x 2.6 x 0.37 inches, making it slightly thicker than the iPhone 5 and Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S III. Powering the 138 gram phone is a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus with 2GB RAM.
On stage, Heins demonstrated a slew of innovative features unique to the new platform, including a virtual keyboard that allows you to flick words onto the screen, multi-tasking integration called BlackBerry Flow and a robust re-envisioning of the Blackberry Messenger experience. Of emphasis was "BlackBerry Balance," the platform's ability to seamlessly merge both work and play in a single unified experience. For corporate users, it could mean finally ditching the practice of carrying around two phones.
But in the age of "ecosystems," simply having a solid phone with great software is no longer enough. Users expect more. They want their favorite apps and easy access to all the digital entertainment -- games, music, videos, books, sports -- that they've all grown accustomed to. On this front, BlackBerry didn't disappoint.
The new BlackBerry World is the company's answer to the iTunes Store and Google Play and already includes over 70,000 apps and support from eight movie studios and all major music labels. BlackBerry 10 launches with support for Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, the NHL, Major League Baseball and more. Skype, Angry Birds and WhatsApp among others have all pledged their support for the platform although there were some notable absences. Instagram was nowhere to be seen.
Whether or not the new releases can put up a serious challenge against Apple and Android remains to be seen. In the months leading up to the launch, BlackBerry’s stock has soared. But mere days before the launch, analysts were split over whether the new phones could save the company. Following the announcement, BlackBerry's stock was down over 6 percent.
“RIM continues to face the twin demons of consumer-driven buying power and a chronic inability to appeal to mature market consumers. There is nothing in what we’ve seen so far of BB10 that suggests it will conquer the second of these demons, and the first is utterly out of RIM’s control,” said Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst for Ovum. “Its glory days are past, and it is only a matter of time before it reaches a natural end.”
Others, however, believe this could be an opportunity for a serious comeback.
"This year we will see multiple attempts to fight the Samsung/Apple smartphone duopoly in smartphone hardware—along with the twin Google/Apple duopoly in smartphone operating systems,” said Ian Fogg, senior principal analyst at IHS. “Because of the fast-rising adoption of smartphones, 2013 represents the last, best hope for RIM's BlackBerry 10—along with endangered specimens like Microsoft's Windows Phone, Nokia's Lumia and Mozilla's Firefox—to create a viable third smartphone competitor in the market."
For BlackBerry, the realization that this could be the company's last chance saloon has culminated in an unprecedented marketing push. Heins revealed that singer-songwriter Alicia Keys would be the company's new Global Creative Director. And next week, the new BlackBerry will be featured in its first ever Super Bowl ad.