Research In Motion Ltd.'s new CEO Thorsten Heins unveiled an early version of the long-awaited BlackBerry 10 platform, but investors signalled the new software may not be the desperately needed breakthrough to help RIM reverse its steep slide.
RIM has poured vast resources into BlackBerry 10, essentially betting the company's future on the new platform's ability to win back market share lost to Apple Inc.'s iPhone and other high-end smartphones.
Providing a glimpse of a version of the new operating system, Mr. Heins made it clear that RIM hopes to position the new BlackBerrys as the smartphone for serious people, a device running over RIM's secure network that makes communication efficient and effortless.
In a presentation that featured video clips of busy professionals using BlackBerrys in the workplace and cameos by senior executives from Cisco Systems Inc. and SalesForce, Mr. Heins stressed that BlackBerry 10 is a tool to boost productivity.
Investors, however, were not impressed, and pushed RIM shares down nearly 6 per cent after the unveiling of the new device.
The prototype touch-screen device was released early to help software developers build apps for the new platform, due out later this year. In a brief demonstration, Mr. Heins emphasized the software's sleek interface, which integrates various messaging functions, a new digital keyboard that adapts to how users type, and the fact that it will save busy people some very precious time.
"I'm so excited to have this in my hand and show it to you, because I know how much work has gone into it," Mr. Heins told an audience at the BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Florida. As a RIM employee demonstrated the new features – and showed a video in which a user can zoom in within a photo and wind back the image to open a subject's eyes – Mr. Heins gushed, "I love it, I love it. This is so cool."
Reactions to the software varied. National Bank Financial analyst Kris Thompson said the new functionality was "intriguing," but said a lack of hard partnership announcements in Mr. Heins's address contributed to the stock's decline.
Mr. Heins, who took over from RIM's long-time co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie in January, has rallied the company behind this project at a crucial time in RIM's history. Plummeting market share, a collapsed stock price and a lagging product portfolio have turned the Waterloo, Ont.-based technology giant from a leader into a laggard – and the fast-paced nature of the consumer technology industry means there isn't much time left to orchestrate a turnaround.
Though clearly a vast improvement over RIM's previous software, its still unclear whether RIM can bring out the actual devices fast enough, without any missteps and with a support structure of third-party apps that would help convince current BlackBerry users to upgrade – and undecided smartphone buyers to pick RIM's platform.
"These are for people who are hyper communicators, who are trying to get things done, whether you're a mom or a business professional," says Maribel Lopez, a mobile industry consultant based in San Francisco who was at the conference. "There's a great international audience here. Globally, people care about this platform. The message, I think, was a good message – it was a clearer message than in the past. Now it's just, 'Can you execute on it?' "
One of RIM's most noticeable problems has been a dearth of quality apps – from popular games to news applications – that are available on Apple Inc.'s iOS and Google Inc.'s Android. The problem originated with RIM's operating system, with architecture that wasn't designed with apps in mind, but was complicated by RIM's numerous devices, which all had varying screen sizes and processing power.
RIM is trying to change all of that with a unified operating system, better tools for developers, and a certification process that guarantees certain developers will make at least $10,000 in their app's first year – or RIM will pay the difference.
And though it will be tough to recreate the scale of apps that has come from Apple's success with the iPhone, early signs from developers at the conference seemed positive.Madhu Kesavan, who founded Card2Contact – an app that allows users to upload a picture of a business card and have outsourced employees in India digitize the information – said he and others at BlackBerry World were excited about the platform. "I can see the traction here – (developers) want to touch the device, they want to develop apps for the device," Mr. Kesavan said. He added developers have long had problems with RIM's previous operating systems, which were simply incremental improvements on the previous version. "Here, with BlackBerry 10, it is a complete break."