Research in Motion unveiled its latest smartphone, the long-awaited BlackBerry 10, at an event in New York City this morning. RIM CEO Thurston Heins touted it as the beginning of "new day for BlackBerry."
That was not an overstatement. Mr. Heins announced early in the press conference that RIM was renaming itself BlackBerry, emphasizing how important the BlackBerry brand -- and this product launch, in particular -- are for the future of the struggling company.
The product launch included the release of two new phones: the BlackBerry Z10, a touchscreen smartphone, and the Q10, a smartphone with a physical keyboard.
Mr. Heins said the decision to release a model with a physical keyboard -- a feature noticeably absent from Apple and Android smartphones -- was based on RIM customers who "love" their BlackBerry keyboards. Many members of the audience cheered and applauded when Mr. Heins spoke about the Q10's keyboard.
Touting a keyboard for what is being marketed as a cutting-edge smartphone was just one of a few seemingly contradictory marketing messages about what makes BlackBerry 10 unique. Mr. Heins stressed that the phone was for people who are "hyper connected socially," but then said it was for those who need to "get things done." BlackBerry 10 is a device for corporate users, but it's also great for those who want to watch movies on their phone. A user can keep his or her private and personal contacts and messages separate, or integrate them into a single interface.
BlackBerry, it seems, wants to continue to own its original perception as the phone of choice for business executives with a new emphasis on social-media sharing, integration across mobile apps and entertainment media. BlackBerry 10 is bursting with new features for those more interested in the latter. BlackBerry Hub, a new feature, consolidates a user's emails, texts, LinkedIn updates, Facebook notifications and tweets into a single interface. BlackBerry Story allows users to create multimedia packages that include filtered photos, videos and music. BlackBerry Balance separates a user's personal and business-related information.
Aware that smartphones have increasingly become media-consumption devices, BlackBerry showcased how its device lets users watch, hear, read and produce creative media. Popular apps such as Angry Birds, Kindle, the New York Times, Rdio, Skype, Songza and films made by the world's eight major movie studios are all available on the new device.
To drive home the device's creative capabilities, Mr. Heins introduced singer Alicia Keys as BlackBerry's new global creative director. (She's the latest in a string of celebrities to assume roles like that at major marketers.) Gizmodo was quick to point out that the singer's initial tweet about her new role with the company today originated from an iPhone.
Questions remain as to whether RIM can salvage the nearly defunct BlackBerry brand at all, however. In the not so distant past, BlackBerrys were status symbols, mobile devices reserved for the high-powered elite, tangible evidence of a person's professionalism. Now, however, that notion has shifted. Recently, the New York Times suggested that BlackBerry users run the risk of being stigmatized as painfully out of touch for their phone choice.
The rapid change in perception has been mirrored by a similar decrease in market share. Four years ago, RIM's worldwide market share was more than 50%, according to research firm IDC. RIM's current market share is less than 5%.
In December, IDC projected RIM's worldwide market share to stay essentially flat into 2016.
Larry Vincent, head of branding at Beverly Hills-based talent agency UTA, said that BlackBerry 10's possible success will depend on how well it can differentiate itself from the iPhone and Android devices. That may mean focusing on users who prefer typing emails and text messages on keyboards, a feature noticeably absent from Apple and Android smartphones.
"They're ashamed of [their BlackBerrys], but they won't give it because they're more effective on the old technology than when they tried to switch over," he said.