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RIM formally invites press, analysts to BlackBerry 10 phone event

Research in Motion Monday issued its formal invitation to reporters and analysts to attend the previously announced Jan. 30 unveiling of the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones that will likely decide the company's fate.

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RIM executives will show the first new BlackBerry phones that are designed to run its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, based on a real-time OS kernel from RIM's 2010 acquisition QNX. Apart from a prototype device created for software developers, the designs of the new phones have been closely guarded. RIM executives have hinted there will be several models, some with hardware keyboards, and others that are purely touch devices.

The January event will be at Pier 36, a popular venue for concerts and other events, at 299 South St., in the lower southeastern side of Manhattan. And it will be a lengthy session: starting at 8:30 a.m. EST and running until at least 1 p.m.

In a related announcement, RIM also today launched the BlackBerry 10 Technical Preview program, which will give 120 enterprise and government customers access to beta code for the upcoming BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 and to pre-production BlackBerry 10 smartphones. The group includes 64 Fortune 500 companies, the class of customers that for years was the backbone of RIM's success.

One of these customers is U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which will deploy the beta BES 10 and some number of the pre-production phones for testing in early 2013, it was announced last week.

Throughout 2012, RIM has been revealing ever more details of the new OS and its user interface. A September event was the latest public demonstration. Executives showed a new gesture, dubbed BlackBerry Peek, that may well become iconic for the BlackBerry platform. The Peek is created by pressing a thumb on the bottom of the touchscreen and then moving it up and to the right. The gesture "freezes" the application you're in, and moves it out of the way so you can see "underneath" it, to a context-sensitive starting point, in most cases what RIM calls the BlackBerry Hub. The Hub seems to be an integrated, and customizable, collection of contacts and notifications, spanning the user's communications channels such as email, chat, Facebook and other social networks.

BlackBerry software developers and users have liked what they've seen about the new OS and have been working with early builds for months. Whether they will stick with it, providing the range and depth of mobile apps thought to be essential for a mobile OS to survive and thrive, remains to be seen.

The crisis facing RIM was underlined by another announcement today, by the Nasdaq stock exchange, which announced that RIM was one of 10 companies that will be deleted from the Nasdaq-100 index, along with Netflix and Electronic Arts.

On Friday, RIM's stock price closed at $13.88, a rebound from its 12-month low-point in September of $6.25, but still below its 12-month high of $17.79 in early January. And all of them are a long way from the stock's five-year peak in June 2008 of $148.00.

Over the past two years, RIM has lost market share, especially among enterprise and government customers, as Apple iOS and Google Android smartphones have surged in popularity. It has partly shored up its financials in recent quarters by aggressively cutting prices for its existing product line, a move that's been effective in overseas markets.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: @johnwcoxnww Email: john_cox@nww.com

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