New BlackBerry 10 Gives Hope To Ailing Firm

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Having seen its market share drop by more than half in the last year alone, Canadian mobile handset manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM) is hoping today's launch of the BlackBerry 10 will reverse its fortunes.

Once its handsets prompted such devotion and adulation in its users that they christened it Crackberry.

But in an increasingly competitive marketplace,RIM has found itself muscled out by Samsung and Apple (NasdaqGS: AAPL - news) , among others.

Its rugged build, keyboard and secure servers made it ideal for business use - and for a younger generation its BlackBerry Messenger Service remains a key way of keeping in touch.

But problems with handsets, coupled with a service outage in 2011 that saw many users locked out of their emails, tarnished the brand.

RIM sold less than 12 million handsets in the last quarter, compared with 47.8 million iPhones and 63 million Samsung devices.

Gareth Beavis, phones editor at TechRadar, believes the BlackBerry 10 can see RIM return as a major player, but argues the company took its eye off the ball.

"In the last seven years we've seen the smartphone rise up from something that people thought was just for businessmen to something that everybody owns," he said.

"In that race, people didn't really understand what was going to happen. As much as anything else, Nokia (Stockholm: NOKI-SEK.ST - news) were in the same situation.

"RIM really wanted to believe that its keyboard and email combination was enough for a lot of users.

"It turns out that that can be ported into a touchscreen, into a larger device, it can add media and things that people wanted to do on the go in their pleasure time as much as in business.

"What RIM never really did was capture the person on the street who just wanted a smartphone to do everything.

"It captured the youth market, it got the business market, but eventually there were alternatives to that on Apple and from Samsung ... and it really kind of fell away."

Those who have seen the new BlackBerry are, however, singing its praises. Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC, said it was a "really positive step for the company".

He added: "It puts BlackBerry on the same level as Apple, Android and Windows Phone, and brings them into 2013 rather than being stuck back in 2010."

As much as anything, the BlackBerry 10 launch is about reputation management.

Carole Blake, a London-based literary agent, was once a BlackBerry devotee. But following the service outage in 2011, she decided to sever her relationship with her handset - by smashing it with a hammer.

She was at the Frankfurt Book Fair - the "lifeblood of (her) agency" when her BlackBerry stopped working.

"The outages went on for three days - sometimes it was live, sometimes it wasn't," she explained.

"Once you can't trust something - a person or an object, or particularly a piece of technology - then you don't know whether it's working or not. You don't know whether you've got up-to-date emails or not. It was so infuriating.

"And then of course (there were) all the problems with the handset. The battery would drain in a moment, even though it had been full two moments ago. It would freeze when you were in the middle of an email or a text or a phone call.

"So it just became too unreliable for business."

Already much is known about the BlackBerry 10 OS.

The first handset is expected to be entirely touchscreen, rather than the more traditional keyboard and screen.

Its message hub, where users can access emails, SMS, Facebook (NasdaqGS: FB - news) messages and Twitter Direct Messages all in one place, rather than opening separate apps, will please the social media generation.

Security remains key, and the BlackBerry 10 will allow a personal and a work mode - where security settings can be completely customised by an employer, whilst allowing the user freedom to do what they want without any impact on confidential material stored on the work side.

However, smartphone users want plenty of apps for their device - and, for now at least, it will lag significantly behind its main competitors.

The market seems confident the BlackBerry 10 will have an impact, with the company's share price doubling since mid-September - halting a months-long decline.

But it hovers around the $17 (£11) mark, well below a June 2008 high where RIM traded above $140 (£89).

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