Research In Motion Ltd. is aggressively targeting the next generation of young, tech-savvy consumers with new BlackBerry models, as the company struggles to fight off competition in the smart phone market from tech giants such as Apple Inc. and Google Inc.
RIM kicked off its annual showcase event for analysts, developers and customers in Orlando, Florida, by unveiling the new 3G edition of its Pearl BlackBerry line. The original Pearl, released four years ago, was RIM's first serious attempt at courting the consumer, rather than business and government users on which the Waterloo, Ontario company built its early success. The company is refreshing the line with a new model, packed with a camera, GPS and the ability to connect to Wi-Fi networks.
Rogers and Telus said yesterday they would carry the new Pearl 3G phone. RIM is also offering a version of its Bold 9650 smart phone designed to work with CDMA networks, giving carriers such as Sprint in the United States the ability to run that device, one of RIM's higher-end products.
RIM also unveiled a new version of its mobile voice system technology, which lets users integrate their BlackBerrys and office lines. In the latest upgrade, RIM allows customers to make phone calls using Wi-Fi connections.
The event, called the Wireless Enterprise Symposium, is RIM's chance to steal the spotlight from competitors, most notably Apple. RIM has been involved in a fierce battle with the California-based company over the consumer smart phone market, and although RIM boasts several of the top-selling smart phones in North America, Apple's iPhone has garnered much of the publicity in recent years - a phenomenon that intensified this year with the launch of the Apple tablet computer, the iPad.
Although the symposium is aimed primarily at RIM's business customers, the company is expected to spend a considerable amount of time talking about its consumer strategy.
RIM co-chief executive officer Mike Lazaridis confirmed at the event that the newest version of the company's BlackBerry operating system -- BlackBerry OS 6 - will launch in the third quarter of 2010. Analysts and investors greeted the news warmly, in large part because the company has been repeatedly criticized for failing to match competitors in areas such as smart phone web browsing, and a revamped operating system is likely to give RIM a significant push as it focuses on creating better web and multi-media experiences on its phones.
The company is also looking to boost its presence in the applications environment. While there are an estimated 150,000 apps available for the iPhone, and about 30,000 or 40,000 for phones powered by Google's Android operating system, there are only about 6,500 for BlackBerry, a number that the company has been trying hard to move upward.
WES runs this week until Thursday. Mr. Lazaridis is expected to deliver a keynote address Tuesday morning. The company promises a number of new announcements during the week, as investors, analysts and developers look for a blueprint outlining the next decade of RIM's business.