Research In Motion Ltd. says its coming BlackBerry 10 smartphones are now being tested with 50 wireless carriers around the world, including at BCE Inc.'s Bell Mobility, a key milestone on the way to launching the devices early next year after multiple costly delays.
The new full touch-screen BlackBerry will run entirely new software that marks a dramatic departure from the current BlackBerry 7 models. The new software has increased functionality, including the ability to move more easily between a central e-mail inbox and various apps running in the background.
The new devices are a crucial piece of RIM's comeback strategy as it struggles in developed markets against Apple Inc.'s hugely popular iPhone and various smartphones that run Google Inc.'s Android software.
"I'm very pleased to confirm that we have passed a critical milestone in the development of our brand new mobile computing platform," RIM chief executive officer Thorsten Heins said in a statement. "This process will continue in the coming months as more carriers around the world formally evaluate the devices and our brand new software."
RIM has said previously that the BlackBerry 10 phones will be released early in 2013 – a full touch-screen device being quickly followed by a BlackBerry 10 phone with a physical keyboard.
The launch, of course, will come after numerous delays that have seen RIM continue to lose market share in big markets such as the United States. The delay until next year also means that RIM will miss out on the enormously important holiday shopping season when many people buy new phones. The newest iPhone, as well as multiple smartphones from Nokia Corp. and other Samsung devices, will all likely sell better in developed economies than RIM's aging crop of BlackBerrys.
RIM's CEO has justified the delay by saying that the devices didn't yet meet his expectations, but he has since been on the road, showing off the device to large corporate clients and large wireless partners around the world.
"I have spent the last several weeks on the road visiting with carrier partners around the world to show them the BlackBerry 10 platform and to share with them our plans for launch," he said. "The hard work will not stop here as we build towards launch."
Peter Misek, an analyst with Jefferies, said that there is usually a three- to six-month period between when wireless carriers receive devices for lab testing, and when the devices actually launch. Mr. Misek, who forecasts a slightly later launch in early March, says RIM's statement today signifies that a best case scenario will see RIM launch the BlackBerry 10 devices in late January and, at worst, in late March or April.
"It's a new (operating system) and it's going to require a lot of testing," Mr. Misek said.