Smartphone pioneer Research in Motion launched a fateful comeback Wednesday with a new operating system and smartphones, and a change of the company name to its signature product BlackBerry.
The BlackBerry has been "re-designed, re-engineered, re-invented," CEO Thorsten Heins said in unveiling the two new BlackBerry 10 smartphones at a press event in New York.
The first phone to market, dubbed the Z10, marks a radical break from BlackBerry's traditional keyboard models, featuring a touch-screen keyboard like the Apple and Android rivals it must reel in if it is to survive as a major player in the smartphone world.
The phone, which is available from Thursday in Britain, will go on sale in Canada in February and in the United States in March. A second model, the Q10 will follow shortly afterwards.
It will feature a physical keyboard that will make it instantly familiar with the company's 80 million existing users.
Both phones run on the brand new BlackBerry 10 operating system, which is hoping to challenge Apple and Android phones, as well as phones that run the less popular Windows Phone 8 operating system.
Reviewers have been generally positive about the new operating system, praising its speed, organization, virtual keyboard, and the BB Hub, which brings together emails, texts and other notifications.
But there is concern about the relative paucity of apps compared to the Apple and Android ecosystems. The 70,000 apps that are currently available include favourites such as Facebook, the New York Times, Angry Birds and the messaging system What's App.
But other popular titles such as Instagram, Pandora, Spotify, Google Maps and Netflix are still missing.
BlackBerry was the smartphone market leader prior to the launch of the iPhone in 2007, but held on to a 40 per cent plus market share until 2008. Last year it sold just 2 per cent of smartphones in the United States, and 4.6 per cent worldwide according to research firm IDC.
Analysts see the new phones and operating system as the last chance for BlackBerry to assert itself as a leading smartphone maker.
While there are serious doubts about the new phones' abilities to pull users away from popular iPhone and Android models, analysts expect more success in getting existing BlackBerry users to trade in their outdated models for new ones.
"Despite a well-designed Blackberry 10 platform, that will certainly attract short-term interest from existing users, the company will struggle to appeal to a wider audience and in the long-term will become a niche player in the smartphone market," said Adam Leach, principal analyst at Ovum.
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