NEW YORK (AP) - A new generation of more versatile BlackBerry smartphones is finally about to hit the market after excruciating delays allowed mobile devices made by Apple, Samsung and others to build commanding leads in a market that is redefining society.
BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. formally unveiled its long-awaited line-up of revamped smartphones and software Wednesday at simultaneous events held in New York, Toronto, London, Paris, Dubai, Johannesburg, Jakarta and Delhi.
In a move underscoring the stakes riding on its make-or-break product line-up, the Canadian company used the occasion to announce it is changing its name to BlackBerry — a pioneering brand that has lost its cachet since Apple's 2007 release of the iPhone reset expectations for what a smartphone should do.
The first devices in the new crop of BlackBerrys will be called the Q10, which will feature a physical keyboard like previous versions of the phone, and the Z10 will have only touch-screen keyboard, like Apple Inc.'s trend-setting iPhone and other handsets running on Google Inc.'s Android software, including Samsung's popular Galaxy. They will run on a redesigned operating system called BlackBerry 10, which the company began working on after buying QNX Software Systems in 2010.
The new software and BlackBerrys were supposed to be released a year ago, only to be delayed while Apple and Android device makers won more zealous converts to their products. In the meantime, Microsoft Corp. also rolled out a new Windows operating system for smartphones, confronting RIM with another technology powerhouse to battle.
The delays in developing the new BlackBerrys helped wipe out $70 billion in shareholder wealth and 5,000 jobs.
"It is the most challenging year of my career," said RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, whose anniversary leading the company occurred last week. "It is also the most exhilarating and exciting one."
The wait for U.S. smartphone users interested in buying the new BlackBerry line still isn't over. The Z10 won't be released in the U.S. until March and the Q10 might not arrive in the country until April, Heins said, to give wireless carriers more time to test the product. All the major U.S. carriers plan to sell the new BlackBerrys. The estimated U.S. prices for the phones weren't announced, though.
The Z10, which BlackBerry will call the "Zed-10" outside the U.S., will go on sale Thursday in United Kingdom Thursday. The same model will be released in Canada on Feb. 5 and will cost about $150 there with a three-year wireless contract.
Despite their limited availability until March, the new BlackBerrys will be hailed in a commercial Sunday during CBS's telecast of the Super Bowl. RIM hasn't disclosed how much that will cost, but some 30-second spots during the game have been sold for as much as $4 million.
BGC Financial analyst Colin Gills said the new phones' tardy arrival to the U.S. threatens to cause even more BlackBerry users to defect to the iPhone or an Android device. By the time, the Z10 goes on sale in the U.S. Gillis suspects many geeks will be waiting to see what Google plans to unveil in Mid-May at an annual conference that usually includes new gadgets.
Wednesday's event didn't go over well on Wall Street. RIM's stock shed 93 cents, or nearly 6 percent, to $14.73 in afternoon trading. The shares have still more than doubled from their nine-year low of $6.22 reached in September, but are still nearly 90 percent below their peak of $147 reached in 2008 when the iPhone was still a novelty trying to break into the mainstream.
Repeated delays and years of blundering have turned the once-iconic BlackBerry into an also ran as the iPhone and Android devices raced ahead with crowd-pleasing innovations. That has led some analysts to question whether the company that helped create the smartphone market will survive, especially as its losses have mounted in the past year.
Yet there was renewed optimism heading into Wednesday's event. Previews of the BlackBerry 10 software have gotten favorable reviews on blogs. Financial analysts are starting to see some room for a comeback. RIM redesigned the system to embrace the multimedia, apps and touch-screen experience prevalent today. The Q10 is meant to cater to people who still prefer a typing on a physical keyboard instead of a display screen.
Besides promising a better typing experience, the new BlackBerrys are supposed to run faster, pull up multiple applications simultaneously and enable users to separate their professional and personal lives with a feature called "Balance."
"Gone are the days of going back and forth and in and out between applications," said Andrew MacLeod, RIM's managing director for Canada. "It's cumbersome, it's inefficient and it's slow."
Doubts remain about the ability of BlackBerry 10 to rescue RIM.
"We'll see if they can reclaim their glory. My sense is that it will be a phone that everyone says good things about but not as many people buy," Gillis said.