Research In Motion says it will debut on January 30 new smartphones running its revamped BlackBerry 10 operating system, which is widely viewed as the company's last chance to stay relevant versus Apple iPhone and Google Android devices.
The upcoming announcement is expected to include shipping dates and prices. AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile confirmed to mobile industry newsletter FierceWireless this week that they'll carry the new phones. RIM officials previously said several models will be screen-only devices and at least one phone will use the conventional QWERTY keyboard.
RIM announced details of its new operating system in 2012. Users will get efficient multitasking, a modern web browser, a new interface for on-screen keyboards, and a profile feature for quickly switching your phone between office and personal configurations.
Notably, the phones can run applications written for a 2011 version of Android, but only if the applications are first repackaged through BlackBerry's software development tools. Whether that would be up to users, or up to the application's original programmers, remains to be seen. The ability for a mobile computing platform to run programs made for another is unique, said Farpoint Group's Craig Mathias, a well-known analyst in the mobile field. But not all features will be supported, according to information on the BlackBerry software development site. Also unclear is whether the phones will be able to run software designed for newer versions of Android. Software compatibility is a problem even among different versions of individual phones based on Android, he noted.
BlackBerry remains viable in law firms even as the past few years saw an attorney exodus to the iPhone. Almost 50 percent of attorneys surveyed in 2012 by the American Bar Association used iPhones; more than 30 percent were still using BlackBerry. The CIOs at DLA Piper and Holland & Knight said at the time they're seeing a clear shift toward the Apple platform and were taking a wait-and-see approach to BlackBerry 10.
Mathias said that he is optimistic about BlackBerry 10 devices having impressive design, but less so about RIM's overall chances of swaying iPhone and Android customers.
"RIM will build a very high-quality product," Mathias said, in Ashland, Mass. But even if the Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM makes all the right technical and marketing moves, it still probably won't have features compelling enough to make iPhone and Android users switch, he said. Nor was Hewlett-Packard or Microsoft able to make significant inroads with their own mobile devices, despite having far larger budgets than RIM, he observed.
RIM still has a good reputation for their enterprise deployment software and for their wireless security features, Mathias added. But, he said, the importance of such features is shrinking in a bring-your-down-device world.