Heins banks on appeal of fresh BB10

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By John Biers

New York - BlackBerry launched its comeback effort on Wednesday with a revamped platform and a pair of sleek new handsets, along with a company name change as part of a move to reinvent the smartphone maker.

Canadian-based Research In Motion said it changed its name to BlackBerry as it launched the BlackBerry 10, the new platform aimed at helping the firm regain traction in a market now dominated by rivals.

“From this point forward RIM becomes BlackBerry,” chief executive Thorsten Heins told a glitzy unveiling in New York, one of six global events for the launch. “It is one brand, it is one promise.”

The company presented two new devices for its new platform, one with a physical keyboard called the Q10, and a touchscreen handset dubbed Z10.

The new BlackBerry “will transform mobile communications into true mobile computing”, Heins said.

“Today is a brand new day in the history of BlackBerry.”

The launch is seen as critical to BlackBerry, which had been the dominant smartphone maker before Apple launched its iPhone and others began using the Google Android operating system, but now holds less than five percent of the global market, according to surveys.

While the new system drew some positive reviews, others noted that the smartphone market is a cutthroat competitive space and questioned whether BlackBerry could make a significant dent.

Adam Leach, principal analyst at Ovum, praised the new BlackBerry offering as “a differentiated user experience in today's crowded and homogenous smartphone market”, but said the company may have trouble winning back customers and end up as a “niche player”.

Tech analyst Jeff Kagan said in a note that he was impressed with the lofty number of applications and the overall impression of the device. But Kagan said it was too soon to say if BlackBerry 10 will emerge as a major competitor to Apple and Google.

“This is the first step in Blackberry's recovery and I think they did a good job so far, but there are still so many more steps,” Kagan said. “We'll have to wait and see, but so far, so good.”

Shares in RIM were off 6.6 percent at midday. The renamed company's new stock ticker takes effect on February 4.

The new device will be available as soon as Thursday in some markets, but not until mid-March in the key US market.

Heins told a news conference that the reason for the delay in the US is “a rather lengthy” testing process, but noted some carriers are taking pre-orders. Verizon is marketing the phone in the US for $199 with a two-year plan.

BlackBerry has traditionally scored best with corporate clients who have been partial to the device's reputation for greater network security.

However, the smartphone market has been changing radically as more companies shift to a “bring your own device”, or BYOD, model in which companies let workers choose their smartphone.

BlackBerry aims to target these users with a system that allows for separate spaces on a single device for work and personal data. Such an option means that if a user changes jobs, an employer can disable the device's corporate side without affecting personal data.

Other features include the capacity for users to share in real-time screens and complex data from two different locales on a messaging system. The phone also features an efficient writing device in which writers can flick a single character and generate an entire word in English, French, German or other languages.

Heins said the device was geared for “people who are hyperconnected socially” and “people who like to get things done”.

The new device also starts with 70 000 applications, including prominent offerings like Amazon's Kindle and LinkedIn.

Besides corporate clients, BlackBerry is targeting creative entrepreneurs and women, especially working mothers who lead a busy life. To that end, the company appointed pop star Alicia Keys as global creative director. - Sapa-AFP

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