In a keynote that was rife with technopop music and contrived videos -- and woefully short on details -- Research in Motion launched two new smartphones in its bid to restore its fortunes in the smartphone market.
The company put almost as much weight on its name change, to BlackBerry (stock symbol changes from RIMM to BBRY), to showing a montage of some of the top popular smartphone apps that will be part of the BlackBerry 10 catalog, and video clips of enthusiastic developers and users, and bringing onstage singer Alicia Keys as BlackBerry "Global Creative Director."
[FIRST LOOK: BlackBerry 10 smartphones]
The Z10 is a full-touch smartphone with a 4.2-inch screen and 356 pixels per inch, on par with Apple's Retina Display for the iPhone 5. The Q10 has a smaller screen, and the traditional BlackBerry physical keyboard. The Z10 is expected on all four main U.S. carriers by mid-March. Pricing and plans will vary, but the retail list price could be about $149. The phones, in white or a matt black finish are simple in design, almost seeming to avoid calling attention to themselves.
The company has courted app developers, and today the BlackBerry World online catalog has over 70,000 apps, including (or soon to include) top global names in gaming, social networking, and other categories.
But at the center of today's presentation was the unique UI, dubbed BlackBerry Flow, developed over the new operating system kernel: introducing a new set of gestures that can be used with what appears to be an in-depth integration of contacts, calendars, social networking, updates, messaging in and through the BlackBerry Hub.
Both Flow and Hub seem to be central to BlackBerry's marketing approach. One of the most important comments during a Q&A after the main event was by Frank Boulben, chief marketing officer. He was asked how BlackBerry would appeal to existing or first time smartphone users.
"We've done extensive market research [of end users]," he said. That research has identified a large group of what BlackBerry calls the "hyperconnected" and "multitaskers," about one-third of the entire market, according to Boulben. "We're appealing to not only the existing BlackBerry base, but to a much broader audience." According to Boulben, "more than half of all Canadians who have registered so far for BlackBerry 10 phones are not current BlackBerry users.
Alicia Keys herself described how she had been lured away from her long-time BlackBerry use by a rival "phone with more bling." But the BB10 experience and the new phones had drawn her back exclusively to BlackBerry.
The move to name Keys is clever and may also be effective in so far as it shows BlackBerry's assessment of the market: a smart, talented, successful woman, and a popular artist, in what she herself described as a traditionally "male dominated" market for smartphones.
The company seems confident that it can attract, convince, and persuade a lot of users, even in mature markets like the U.S. and Canada. The iPhone is 6 years old; Android powers a lot of phones but only a very few models that approach the iPhone's success. BlackBerry's assessment is that the OS and UI are a match for the next evolution in how people are already stretching smartphones, moving, as BlackBerry President and CEO Thorsten Heins says, from mobile communication to mobile computing.
John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.
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