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RIM unveils BlackBerry Q5; extends BBM service to other platforms

CEO Thorsten Heins showed off the colourful Q5, a small, thin handset with 3.1-inch touchscreen and a physical QWERTY keyboard. Described as an entry-level BlackBerry 10 device to appeal to the company’s critical overseas markets.

Research In Motion Ltd. confirmed rumours Tuesday with the announcement of a new low-end handset at the BlackBerry Live 2013 developer event.

Chief executive officer Thorsten Heins showed off the colourful Q5, a small, thin handset with 3.1-inch touchscreen and a physical QWERTY keyboard. It was described as an entry-level BlackBerry 10 device to appeal to the company's critical overseas markets.

"I think you're really going to like it, it is a sleek, slim, high-performance device," Mr. Heins said.

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Mr. Heins told the crowd in Orlando, Fla., that beginning in July the new handset would arrive in some markets in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America. In many of those markets, BlackBerry accounts for 60 per cent of smartphone sales, and in turn those markets have accounted for more than 65 per cent of BlackBerry's sales.

At the same time, in recent months low-end devices from Android phone market-leader Samsung have put pressure on BlackBerry sales, and another developing economy competitor has arrived with the recently unveiled Asha-platform smartphones from Nokia.

Mr. Heins has said he wants BlackBerry to create a portfolio of smartphones that expands beyond the higher priced models into both a mid-priced and entry level version of the device.

In another major shift, the company announced it would share access to the popular BBM text and video messaging app across other smartphone platforms, for free. At "summer" launch, it will be available on iPhones with iOS 6, and Android phones with the Ice Cream Sandwich OS version or better.

"The BB10 platform is so strong, we think the time is right," to make BBM available across competing devices, Mr. Heins said.

The company also announced a social marketing service that will work on BBM, called BBM Channels. Designed to function like the Facebook Pages, users who connect with these new channels will be able to chat with and get targeted updates from corporations or brands they find interesting.

According to RIM, there are more than 60 million monthly active users of BBM, who send and receive more than 10 billion messages each day, nearly twice as many messages per user per day as compared to other mobile messaging apps.

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The company also announced the BlackBerry 10.1 update (which shipped with the Q10 model) will be available in all markets for the Z10 smartphone by the end of May.

Mr. Heins noted that there are now 120,000 apps available for the new operating system, up from 70,000 on Jan. 30.

He also announced that synthesizer maker Moog would be launching its app for BlackBerry as well as Skype.

RIM shares on the TSX were down 22 cents, or 1.4 per cent, in early trading.

"We have seen little from BlackBerry to inspire confidence in a turnaround in a hyper-competitive industry and formidable competitors including Samsung, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Huawei, amongst others, with significantly more resources," UBS analyst Amitabh Passi said in a note to clients on Monday.

But Mr. Passi, who has a "neutral" rating on BlackBerry stock, expects earnings estimates to move upward on BlackBerry in the short term, due to channel fill and some pent-up demand.

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With files from The Canadian Press and Reuters

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