Struggling BlackBerry presents new operating juice
TORONTO — Research In Motion’s new chief executive unveiled a prototype BlackBerry smartphone on Tuesday that is powered by a new operating system, the very software that the company has pinned its future on.
Thorsten Heins, who took the CEO job in January, revealed features of the BlackBerry 10 operating system running on a prototype device at the company’s BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Fla. He provided no update on the software’s launch date.
The once-iconic company, which has built up a strong niche on Capitol Hill and in official Washington, has had difficulty competing with flashier, consumer-oriented phones such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone and models that run Google Inc.’s Android software.
Mr. Heins, who is trying to rally developers to make applications for the new operating system, promised that each developer at the conference will go home with the prototype BlackBerry. In a speech available on the company’s website, he stressed that the device is not the finished product.
“We’re taking our time to make sure we get this right,” Mr. Heins said.
It was Mr. Heins‘ first major speech since replacing longtime chiefs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis in January. Mr. Lazaridis announced a month earlier that the often-delayed operating system would be delayed again until later this year.
Analysts say the future of Research In Motion Ltd. depends on the new BlackBerry 10 software platform, although many say it may be too late.
“I’m very, very confident we will be there later this year with an exciting product. Make no mistake, this is not the final device, this is not the final hardware,” Mr. Heins said.
The prototype BlackBerry has a touchscreen, but no physical keyboard like most BlackBerry models. One of the new features is a modified touchscreen keypad that will allow users to select full words with a single key stroke.
RIM has had limited success trying to enter consumer markets in recent years, particularly with high-end devices that sport touch screens popular with consumers. Touch-screen BlackBerrys that lack physical keyboards have largely flopped.
BlackBerrys also lag iPhones and Android phones when it comes to the number of third-party applications they can run.
The Canadian company has long dominated the corporate smartphone market, with a reputation for security and reliability. President Obama even refused to part with his BlackBerry after he took office.
But RIM faces threats from the “bring-your-own-device” movement, in which employees bring their personal iPhones or Android devices to work instead of relying on BlackBerrys issued by their employers.
Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek, in Orlando for the conference, said Mr. Heins gave a good speech in front of a bigger-than-expected crowd, but he said someone at RIM should have given the speech a year ago.
“I just get the feeling that I wish they had it out already. It’s going to be a challenge for them. When they launch BlackBerry 10 devices the iPhone 5, Windows 8 and all the Android devices will all be out,” Mr. Misek said. “It sure does feel like it’s getting close to being too late.”