It has a faster Web browser and better apps. Its sleek operating system lets the user move easily between her inbox and social media, rather than closing one to open the other.
It has a bigger screen than the iPhone, making videos easy to watch. It has a vastly improved camera that can wind through multiple frames in order to open blinked eyes, as well as a central hub that aggregates Twitter, LinkedIn, and e-mail messages. In Facebook, scrolling through photos is no longer an arduous task.
In short, BlackBerry 10 is probably the best BlackBerry that Research In Motion Ltd. has ever built. And after years of criticism that RIM’s smartphones lack the razzle-dazzle of wildly popular models from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and Apple Inc., the new BlackBerry 10 touchscreen phone – which The Globe and Mail got a sneak preview of on Tuesday – actually looks kind of cool.
But now that launch day is finally here, after numerous delays and some dark days for the company, the question is: Will it be enough to save RIM?
On Wednesday, the technology giant’s CEO, Thorsten Heins, will unveil the BlackBerry 10 lineup of smartphones at an event in New York: A full-touch device designed to match the consumer appeal of the iPhone, and a revamped BlackBerry with the same physical keyboard beloved by many business people.
These new devices are not merely new gadgets for RIM. They will also run new software that was designed from the ground up to work better than RIM’s older operating system, which was plodding, unstable and lacked a large variety of applications.
The devices also represent what is arguably RIM’s last chance to show the world it’s still able to keep up with the brutally fast pace of innovation in the smartphone industry.
“It’s an ultra-competitive market and most consumers have made up their minds on BlackBerry, so we believe RIM really needs to wow the audience,” RBC Dominion Securities analysts Mark Sue and Paul Treiber wrote in a recent research note.
If the new devices are a success, RIM will have a future-proof platform on which to launch multiple new wireless devices, at various prices and in different markets around the world – reversing a steep decline in sales and stabilizing the company’s deteriorating position in the market.
If BlackBerry 10 devices are only marginally successful, RIM risks continuing on a downward slope. And if they‘re a flat-out failure, then RIM slips back to square one: Stuck with selling BlackBerrys nobody wants, cutting costs and exploring new lines of business – as well as more drastic alternatives such as breaking up or selling the company.
Recently, RIM investors have seemed confident that the new devices were good enough to mount a comeback. As RIM executives began showing off the BlackBerry 10 touchscreen phone to wireless carriers, business users and financial analysts, and as videos and screenshots leaked online, the stock went on a tear. Even after a pullback this week, it is up 154 per cent since its low point last September. It closed at $15.71 on Tuesday, down 3.4 per cent.
People seem impressed by BlackBerry 10’s ability to separate work and personal profiles; its fluid interface, which lets users glimpse at other areas of the phone without closing applications and a BlackBerry “hub” that aggregates incoming Tweets, e-mails and LinkedIn requests.
Given the stock’s recent run, some analysts had been advising clients to take profits before Wednesday’s launch event – and Eric Jackson was among the investors who did so, though he still holds a large position in the company.
“If they get a lot of their existing [subscribers] to buy the new phones, they are golden,” says Mr. Jackson, a hedge fund investor and founder of Ironfire Capital LLC who was previously shorting RIM’s shares.
Going into the launch, enthusiasm remains high – among investors, RIM executives and boosters in the Kitchener-Waterloo region, where a local Volkswagen dealership had a roadside sign reading “Good luck RIM on the BB10 launch”. In an era when Apple and Samsung still dominate, every bit of support likely matters.