Blackberry takes final chance at a comeback

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Blackberry takes final chance at a comeback

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion begins its comeback bid tomorrow with a new platform launch in a make-or-break move for a firm that is rapidly sinking in the smartphone market it once dominated.

The Canada-based company unveiled its BlackBerry 10 operating system and handsets in what some see as its last chance to remain a major player in an already competitive sector that is nevertheless attracting new entrants.

RIM boomed as the maker of “crackberries,” a nickname stemming from the addiction the phones engendered, but it risks becoming a footnote in a market led by Apple’s iPhone and rivals who use Google’s Android operating system.

“The importance of this launch cannot be overstated,” said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at the research firm IDC. “There’s going to be a lot of work that needs to be done to earn back respect.”

RIM, whose stock is at about one-eighth of its valuation in 2008, said it plans to “significantly” increase its marketing budget for the BlackBerry 10 launch, and there will be events in New York and five other global cities.

The company Web site home page depicts a sleek black device against a black background, alongside the words: “The Blackberry Experience. Re-designed. Re-engineered. Re-invented.”

RIM is touting the system as a big change in smartphone technology.

“This is an entirely new operating system,” said company spokesman Nick Manning. “We think it’s the first entirely new mobile operating system in about five years.”

More than 150 carriers worldwide have been testing the new platform, and RIM has given more than 8,000 prototypes to application developers.

BlackBerry 10 devices will be offered in an all-touchscreen version as well as in a model that keeps a physical keyboard. RIM says the system will break new ground by creating a user space that allows customers to flip between applications seamlessly and without first passing through a home page, to boost efficiency and multitasking.

This feature has caused real “excitement” as RIM has met with carriers around the world, RIM chief executive Thorsten Heins told analysts on a December earnings conference call.

Another key asset of BlackBerry 10 is what RIM dubbed the “BlackBerry balance,” a system that allows users to separate professional communications and applications from music, photographs and other personal items.

Such an option means that if a user changes jobs, his or her former company can disable the device’s corporate side without affecting personal data.

BlackBerry, which until a few years ago was the dominant smartphone, has seen its market share slip to under five percent last year, surveys show.

Gartner analyst Phillip Redman said RIM still has a strong constituency of business users who prefer its hard keyboard and its reputation for strong network security.

The device “has great comeback potential,” he wrote in a recent blog entry.

AFP

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