Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Business

Long-awaited BlackBerry makeover arrives

TORONTO — The maker of the BlackBerry smartphone is promising a speedier device, a superb typing experience and the ability to keep work and personal identities separate on the same phone. It's the fruit of a crucial, long-overdue makeover for the Canadian company.

Thorsten Heins, chief executive of Research In Motion, will show off the first phone with the new BlackBerry 10 system in New York today. A marketing campaign that includes a Super Bowl ad will accompany the long-anticipated debut. Repeated delays have left the once-pioneering BlackBerry an afterthought in the shadow of Apple's trend-setting iPhone and Google's Android-driven devices.

Now, there's optimism. Previews of the software have gotten favorable reviews on blogs. And most analysts consider a BlackBerry 10 success to be crucial for the company's long-term viability.

"The old models are becoming obsolete quickly," BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis said. "There is still a big user base, but it's going to rotate off. The question is: Where do they rotate to?"

The BlackBerry, pioneered in 1999, has been the dominant smartphone for on-the-go businesspeople. Corporate information-technology managers like the phones because they're relatively secure and easy to manage. Many employees loved them because of physical keyboards that were easier to type on than the touch-screen iPhone.

The BlackBerry began to cross over to consumers. But when the iPhone came out in 2007, it showed that phones can do much more than email and phone calls. They can play games, music and movies. Android came along to offer even more choices. Though IT managers still love BlackBerrys, employees were bringing their own devices to the workplace — a trend Heins acknowledged RIM was slow to adapt to.

Suddenly, the BlackBerry looked ancient.

In the United States, according to research firm IDC, shipments of BlackBerry phones plummeted from 46 percent of the market in 2008 to 2 percent in 2012. Most phones in use today are either iPhones or Android devices.

RIM promised a new system to catch up, using technology it got through its 2010 purchase of QNX Software Systems. RIM initially said BlackBerry 10 would come by early 2012, but then the company changed that to late 2012. A few months later, that date was pushed further, to early 2013, missing the lucrative holiday season.

Heins finally will showcase a complete system at today's event. Devices will go on sale soon after. The exact date and prices are expected to be announced today.

RIM redesigned the system to embrace the multimedia, apps and touch-screen experience prevalent today.

The new operating system promises better multitasking than either the iPhone or Android. Simply swipe a finger across the phone's display screen to switch to another program.

All emails and notifications from such applications as Twitter and Facebook go to the BlackBerry Hub, a nerve center accessible with a finger swipe even if you have another application open. One can peek into it and open an email, or return to the previous application without opening the email.

The BlackBerry's touch-screen keyboard promises to learn a user's writing style and suggest words and phrases to complete, going beyond typo corrections offered by rivals.

The first BlackBerry 10 phone will have only a touch screen. RIM has said it will release a version with a physical keyboard soon. That's an area RIM has excelled at, and it's one reason many BlackBerry users have remained loyal.

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