TORONTO – Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) made another step towards the release of its new BlackBerry smartphones on Monday, announcing that it plans to unveil the devices and its new operating system on Jan. 30.
The launch date provides a little more certainty for those who were skeptical that another BlackBerry would ever see the light of day, but it still doesn’t confirm when customers will be able to buy the new touchscreen and keypad versions at stores.
“We’re not going to talk about availability yet,” said company spokeswoman Crystal Roberts in a telephone interview.
Instead, RIM is planning to use the late January date as a platform to showcase the make-or-break device with simultaneous events in multiple countries, though its still uncertain exactly which countries will be the first to get a peek.
The hotly-anticipated launch could mimic the style that technology giant Apple Inc. has made famous in recent years, with its CEO showing off new devices on a stage surrounded by a rapturous crowd of eager users.
Given that the BlackBerry launch will be held in multiple countries at the same time, it’s unclear at this point in which city or cities RIM’s chief executive Thorsten Heins will appear.
Shares of RIM were higher Monday, up three per cent or 25 cents at $8.81 on the Toronto Stock Exchange, but the gain was only about half that made earlier in the session, shortly after the company issued the announcement.
The minimal stock movement suggests traders were little surprised by the announcement, since the launch date was in line with expectations, said Bill Kreher, a technology analyst with financial services firm Edward Jones.
“Given recent missteps and delays we believe this removes some uncertainty around the timing these devices make it to market,” he said, noting that the phones are likely to hit shelves in late February or March.
“I’m still skeptical regarding that moment of truth when consumers are faced with multiple devices, that they’ll actually purchase a BlackBerry 10.”
RIM has outlined that it plans to launch the new smartphones with grassroots and viral marketing campaigns that lean heavily on recruiting loyal BlackBerry users and former users who have switched to competitors’ devices, like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S3, but would consider coming back to the BlackBerry.
But analysts say that will only get the company so far in its launch.
“The company is playing catch up, they do not have the ecosystem of other devices,” Kreher said, noting the prominence of apps stores from Apple’s iTunes store and Google.
“With their branding waning over the last few years, we think marketing will help but a hit product is what will allow RIM to succeed long term.”
Last week, the company gave Canadian politicians and their staff to a sneak preview of the yet-to-be-released devices, while it also won U.S. security clearance for the BlackBerry 10 platform.
“They’re trying to thread the needle between big announcements and releases from their most serious competitors,” said Charter Equity analyst Edward Snyder.
“Gaining (market) share back is going to be very expensive and it’s going to be time consuming.”
Snyder noted that several factors are working against RIM, including that the launch will miss this year’s lucrative holiday season and debut in the first half of next year, a much slower sales period for smart phones. He said RIM will also unveil the new phones around the same time as the rumoured date for the new Samsung Galaxy S4 device, which could steal thunder from the BlackBerry.
Cormark Securities analyst Richard Tse maintains his “Buy” rating on RIM’s stock, saying that he believes the new operating system may be better than many people expect.
Earlier this month, the company announced that its operating system went into testing stages with 50 phone carriers around the world, marking a significant milestone in getting the devices to market.
RIM president and CEO Thorsten Heins said that in building BlackBerry 10, the company set out to create “a truly unique mobile computing experience.”
“Our team has been working tirelessly to bring our customers innovative features combined with a best in class browser, a rich application ecosystem, and cutting-edge multimedia capabilities,” Heins said in announcing the launch date.
Among other things, the BlackBerry 10 will offer a large catalogue of applications from games to lifestyle and multimedia apps, as well as applications designed for business and enterprise use.
The company says the feature it calls BlackBerry Flow allows seamless navigation across open applications. All messages, notifications, feeds, and calendar events come into what is called the BlackBerry hub. With a simple gesture, users can peek into the hub at any time, regardless of what they are doing with the device.
The new smartphones will also have a function that adapts to how the user types to allow faster and more accurate typing.
And RIM says a feature called BlackBerry Balance will keep personal apps and information separate from work data, but the user will be able to switch back and forth.