RIM hopes new BlackBerry fruitful

Updated: 2012-10-08 08:07

By Bloomberg News in Toronto (China Daily)

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 RIM hopes new BlackBerry fruitful

Thorsten Heins, Research in Motion chief executive officer, speaking during the BlackBerry Jam 2012 conference at the San Jose Convention Center in Sept in San Jose, California. Heins kicked off the three-day event with a look at the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. Provided to China Daily

Research In Motion Ltd plans to release its new BlackBerry 10 line of smartphone on six continents in the first quarter, seeking to capitalize on the company's lingering strength in overseas markets.

RIM has already met 30 carriers to show them the BB10 operating system and the response has been positive, Chief Marketing Officer Frank Boulben said in an interview from the BlackBerry 10 Jam conference in San Jose, California.

"We've been hearing things such as 'Unique, revolutionary, really slick,'" said Boulben, who had just returned from a trip that included stops in Singapore, Mumbai and Johannesburg - some of the markets where the BlackBerry remains popular.

RIM is counting on overseas customers to offset shrinking demand in North America, where the BlackBerry has lost ground to Apple Inc's iPhone and Google Inc's Android operating system. Even with analysts projecting a 45 percent decline in RIM's sales this fiscal year, the company says its installed base of customers continues to grow. The BlackBerry now has 80 million subscribers, up from 78 million, Boulben said.

The challenge for Boulben is persuading carriers, software developers and the United States customers to embrace BlackBerry 10, an operating system that was delayed at least twice. RIM is touting the software's ability to run multiple programs at once, making it easier for business customers to be productive, part of its bid to win back market share from Apple and Google.

RIM's share of the global smartphone market, which it once dominated, tumbled to 4.8 percent in the second quarter from 12 percent a year earlier, according to research firm IDC.

Ehud Gelblum, an analyst with Morgan Stanley in New York, said his biggest concern is that the BB10 doesn't have the support of developers who build the news, games and music applications that have helped drive the success of the iPhone and Android.

"A thriving app ecosystem is vital," Gelblum, who rates RIM the equivalent of a sell, said in a research note. "We are finding literally zero support for RIM's new BB10 OS following our latest developer checks, raising the possibility that when RIM finally throws its big BB10 launch party, nobody shows up."

Boulben, a Frenchman who joined RIM from LightSquared Inc in May, disputes that view. The BlackBerry 10 Jam developer conferences have been sold out, he said, including the San Jose event.

RIM has already given out 6,000 BB10 prototypes that developers can build apps on and it's making more, he said. There are also about 25,000 apps available for the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which runs on software similar to BB10. Most of those should work on the new phones, RIM has said.

The fact that BlackBerry subscriber numbers are still rising, helped by growth in places including India and Africa, counters the claim that RIM is in decline, Boulben said.

"That is a good response to everybody who has a negative outlook," he said.

RIM is planning to have a splashy event early next year to introduce the BB10 phones, which will include touch-screen versions and more traditional qwerty keyboard models. Before that, RIM will have a "progressive reveal" of BB10's strengths with corporate information-technology chiefs, technology experts and media, Boulben said.

The exact timing of BB10 phones going on sale will be up to carriers in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa, he said. It will hinge on how long they take to test the handsets.

"Lab entry at some carriers can take as little as six to nine weeks and for some carriers, 16 to 20 weeks," Boulben said. "That explains with a carrier whether it will be January or February."

In any case, BB10 should deliver the first really new smartphone operating system since Apple's first iPhone in 2007, Boulben said.

(China Daily 10/08/2012 page17)