Still, Heins remains an unproven turnaround captain. And the company will have to spend huge amounts on marketing its new device and likely will have multiple quarters of losses as a result. Despite RIM's recent stock run-up, shares, at $15.66, have plummeted 90% since a high of $150 in 2008.
"Research In Motion was a hot stock with their BlackBerry until sales fell off a cliff," says Jay Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida.
BlackBerry fans are either nervous or optimistic -- or both.
"I'd love to be wooed back to BlackBerry," says Scott C. Thompson, 53, a U.S. government lawyer from Newtown, Pa. "Even if it's a killer phone, will it be around?"
Such buyer caution may already be widespread. A nationwide survey of nearly 600 people conducted by SurveyMonkey for USA TODAY found that 80% of respondents replied "not at all interested" in the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones.
To be sure, U.S. consumers and BlackBerry loyalists will face compelling devices. RIM doesn't want to alienate its hard-core fans of physical keyboards and promises a qwerty keyboard. At the same time, it is launching a roomy touch-screen keyboard to upstage the iPhone's.
"I'm rather bullish on RIM's prospects," says IDC analyst Ramon Llamas. "This is not your father's Oldsmobile -- this is a radical change."
Consumers might also be wowed by the software. RIM has carefully redesigned how people can navigate apps, social media, messaging and e-mails. As a result, multitasking can now happen in one screen, known as its BlackBerry Hub, where people can respond to Facebook, Twitter, Google Gmail and just about any messaging. The idea is to make it so that people don't have to toggle back and forth from apps all the time, as is common on iPhones.
A complex task, RIM is placing a huge bet on revolutionizing the smartphone navigation familiar to most people. For starters, RIM in 2010 purchased the QNX operating system that will power its new devices. Later that year, RIM bought user interface design firm The Astonishing Tribe, or TAT, a Swedish firm known for guiding some of the biggest mobile brands on designs.
Marshaling new forces while laying off nearly 30% of its workforce wasn't likely easy this past year. Not to mention managing the chaos of a brain drain of workers bailing with a sense of doom. That likely contributed to BlackBerry 10's delay.
"They have wasted quite a bit of time bringing this product to market," says Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. "They can't really stumble -- this is it."
It's of little surprise that RIM's downtrodden business culture struggled to work with the young and hip tech design firm TAT, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal. TAT was "absolutely fundamental to BlackBerry 10 in the way it works and functions and operates," says Nick Manning, RIM's communications manager.
Despite the reported differences, early reviews suggest the user interface advancements are worthy rivals to Apple's iOS, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone 8. Some experts say even that won't matter.
"Palm was in the same situation as RIM's BlackBerry is in now. Palm had a really sexy OS, and the market said, so what?" says Mark Rolston, chief creative officer at Frog Design, which consulted on early Apple computers. "It was arguably sexier than this."
RIM relies on deep roots with enterprise customers. For years, the BlackBerry was considered more secure, which gave it prominence among IT departments. That has made it a hit with government customers. But advances in security software, combined with worker demands for support of iPhones and Android-based devices, have changed things.
RIM still wants to court its business customers. At the same time, it wants to expand into consumer markets. So it has created something of a hybrid smartphone appearance that allows people to toggle between business and consumer smartphone appearances and their apps.
RIM calls it BlackBerry "Balance," but some experts are calling it a bad case of identity crisis.
"It may be a false trade-off that doesn't exist anymore," says David Tan, assistant professor of strategy at Georgetown University. "It always makes the hair of our neck stand up when companies try to straddle two positions. It could be one of those things that ends up not appealing to either segment."
Serving the consumer smartphone market has been a huge boon for the likes of Samsung and Apple. Missing that boat has cost RIM dearly. Worldwide sales of RIM's smartphones are forecast to decline 36% from 2012 to 2016, according to researcher Gartner, giving it just 1.1% of the market by then. That compares with estimates for Android, at 55%, Apple's iOS (11%) and Microsoft Windows (9.7%) in 2016.
Ultimately, RIM may have to fix a BlackBerry image problem. Samsung -- known for commercials that ridicule Apple -- recently turned its humor on the BlackBerry.
Samsung poked fun at an inability to quickly perform basic tasks and showed an older employee with both a BlackBerry phone and an iPhone. "This one is for work, this one is for home," she says.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer delivered another blow to RIM.
"We literally are moving the company from BlackBerrys to smartphones," she told Fortune in November.
She said it was important for the company to understand iPhones, Android and Windows 8 as it focuses on mobile strategy.
Nobody wishing to look tech-savvy wants to be seen toting one. A woman recently leaving a Google event with a BlackBerry phone and an iPhone was asked whether she believed there was a stigma against using RIM's smartphones in Silicon Valley.
She declined to comment, saying she wouldn't want her employer mentioned in such a story.
"A lot of people are embarrassed about showing their BlackBerry," analyst Milanesi says. "It's an enterprise thing, so you keep it. I think that's what they are suffering from as well. They have a much longer replacement cycle."
"You recognize them," adds Rolston. "You also think, 'That's Grand."
Most Popular Stories
- Bipartisan Budget Deal Gets Key Support in House
- Bitcoin Clones Lurch Onto Financial Scene
- Clinton to Keynote Annual Simmons Leadership Conference
- Futures Fall, Holiday Spending and Unemployment Up
- Budget Deal Will Cut 220,000 Californians Out of Jobless Benefits
- Senate Not So Keen on Budget Deal
- Oil Nears $98 a Barrel
- PhD Project Grooms Business Profs
- Selena Gomez, Shakira Among Top Hispanic Searches
- GM to Stop Making Autos in Australia