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Attendees try out the Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) Blackberry Playbook tablet computer during the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. (Tony Avelar/Bloomberg)
Attendees try out the Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) Blackberry Playbook tablet computer during the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. (Tony Avelar/Bloomberg)

OMAR EL AKKAD

RIM adapts to capitalize on competitors Add to ...

Research In Motion Ltd. kicked off its biggest annual conference with the launch of a new smart phone and shift in strategy - one designed to position the company for a world in which it faces more competition from Apple Inc. and others for high-end business consumers.

In its first concrete move to try to counter the negative sentiment from last week's profit warning, RIM introduced reporters and analysts on Monday to the newest version of the company's Bold smart phone, as well as new software to help corporate IT departments improve security on wireless devices.

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The software helps corporations manage their mobile devices remotely, such as allowing them to wipe the data off a phone if it is lost or stolen. The tool is significant because it also handles phones powered by Google and Apple operating systems - an indication that RIM realizes the corporate smart phone space is no longer exclusive to BlackBerrys.

The move is not without risk for RIM, which may well be making it easier for competitors to enter the enterprise business thanks to the new software. Still, RIM's key advantages in the space, including data efficiency and security, remain intact.

RIM co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, making his first public appearance since RIM shares sank about 14 per cent Friday on the company's lower profit guidance for the current quarter, highlighted the company's attempts to make its devices appeal to both consumers and businesses. "This is a very interesting time," he said. "There is true convergence happening."

In one such move, RIM plans to launch a program called BlackBerry Balance, which separates personal and corporate functions on its mobile devices.

RIM also used its annual conference - now in its 10th year - to fix some issues with the new PlayBook tablet, which launched in mid-April. The company announced new video-chat software for the tablet, as well as a Facebook application.

Even though the highlight announcement was the new Bold smart phone - which comes with an improved version of the BlackBerry operating system - many RIM analysts were more interested in how the company planned to remain competitive in the mobile device market in the year ahead.

Mr. Lazaridis once again indicated RIM will move all its devices to the same operating system currently powering the PlayBook. On Tuesday, Mr. Lazaridis is also expected to show off software that will let PlayBook users run apps originally designed for devices running on Google's Android operating system - another indication RIM is trying to capitalize on, rather than resist, the growing presence of competitors in the wireless space.

Observers were not overly surprised at many of RIM's announcements Monday. A video-chat application for the PlayBook had been considered imminent, and some analysts had expected as many as three or four new BlackBerry model announcements. However, it's unclear how many more products RIM will unveil before the conference ends later this week.

After last week's profit warning, analysts seemed eager to hear RIM's co-CEO concede the company had made some mistakes in execution. Mr. Lazaridis did admit that RIM had made some missteps, but argued the company didn't get its newest products to market on time because it wanted to perfect the devices.

Mr. Lazaridis also said RIM had a significant advantage over competitors because it essentially designed and built the entire infrastructure by which BlackBerrys communicate. That's the reason RIM is able to offer services such as best-in-class security.

However, he added that the RIM-built infrastructure puts more pressure on the company because it becomes responsible for all aspects of its devices' functionality.

"It's both our opportunity and our potential liability," he said.

Research In Motion (RIM)

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