Research in Motion is at CES this week talking up BlackBerry 10, the company's smartphone refresh set to debut January 30. Despite five years of floundering behind Apple's iPhone and Google Android devices, RIM is generating interest in BlackBerry 10 with a slick, touch-centric smartphone OS with interesting features such as an adaptive keyboard and WebOS-like interface.
Many critics and analysts see BB10 as RIM's last chance to maintain relevance in the smartphone world. Once the top smartphone maker in the U.S., RIM's current market share has slipped to just 7.3 percent of American smartphone users, according to metrics firm comScore. That's a loss of 9.3 percentage points from November 2011, when comScore reported the company had 16.6 percent of the U.S. market. RIM in December also said that for the first time in its history the company lost one million users in a single quarter.
But the gloom and doom of RIM's recent years may soon be behind it if the BlackBerry 10 rollout is a success later in January. It's not yet clear when new BlackBerry devices will become available, how much they will cost, or which carriers will offer them, but that should all become clear on January 30. Until then, here's a look at some of things RIM has been talking about at CES and what you should know before the BlackBerry 10 launch event.
Six handsets slated for 2013
We already know that RIM on January 30 will unveil the first two smartphones built for BB10: one touchscreen and one physical keyboard device. Later in the year, RIM has another four BB10 devices planned, reports Fierce Wireless after speaking with the company's chief marketing officer, Frank Boulben, at CES. It's not yet clear what the specs will be for the upcoming BB10 devices.
What BlackBerry 10 can do
BlackBerry 10 is a significant switch from previous iterations of the BlackBerry OS. The new touch-centric OS is based on both existing BlackBerry infrastructure and QNX technology acquired by RIM in 2010. BB10 will feature a WebOS-like card interface called Flow that allows for fast switching between apps. RIM's BlackBerry refresh will also feature a universal inbox called BlackBerry Hub that brings together your e-mail, SMS, BBM, and social networking updates in one place. There will also be an HTML 5-optimized browser, an adaptive virtual keyboard that adjusts to your typing style, predictive word suggestions that can be added to messages with a simple gesture, and a user-friendly camera app.
Lots of carrier testing
RIM said in October that 50 carriers were testing BlackBerry 10 worldwide, and now that number has grown to 150, RIM's senior manager for BlackBerry 10 marketing, Jeff Gadway, told Forbes. RIM said in December that 120 large businesses and organizations were testing BlackBerry 10 for large enterprise deployments at part of the BlackBerry 10 Technical Preview program.
There are no official announcements yet about which U.S. carriers will offer BlackBerry 10 devices, but AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon all more or less told Reutersduring CES they would carry the new line of BlackBerry handsets. What's not clear is whether all three carriers will offer BlackBerry 10 as soon as it's available or wait a few months before rolling out the BlackBerry refresh to their networks.
The app gap
RIM told Fierce Wireless that it would have about 70,000 apps ready to go for BlackBerry 10 at launch. The handset maker has also reportedly convinced a number of developers to offer BB10 apps. RIM claims that about 90 percent of the top 600 apps in major worldwide markets will come to BlackBerry 10, according to Fierce Wireless.
If BB10 does launch with around 70,000 apps, it would have a smaller catalog than the 100,000 or so apps currently in BlackBerry App World. But if RIM truly has convinced many of the top app makers to support BB10, then the numbers game may not matter as much for the BlackBerry maker.
RIM sounds like BlackBerry 10 is off to a good start and the company has managed to maintain interest in BB10 despite several setbacks and delays. Whether RIM will be able to put BlackBerry back on the top of the smartphone world should become clearer in the coming months.