ORLANDO, Fla.—The 2013 BlackBerry Live developer conference, formerly known as BlackBerry World, might be less-than-perfectly summed up in six words: What a difference a year makes.
"It has been an incredible year for BlackBerry," a somewhat more relaxed-looking CEO Thorsten Heins told the audience. "We have been on a tremendous journey, the last 12 to 14 months ... and man, we have reached solid ground with this company."
Since last year's show, BlackBerry has launched two phones running its new platform, put together what Heins called "the strongest leadership team in the mobile business," let go of employees, hired new talent and even posted a profitable quarter.
The organization that last year could only make promises, this year made announcements quicker than journalists could type.
Heins announced that, starting today, the BlackBerry Z10 will begin receiving its first major hardware update, BlackBerry 10.1.
He introduced the Q5, the third device to run BlackBerry 10 and the first to expand its BB10 portfolio into the mid-tier price point. Featuring a 3.1-inch touch display, a QWERTY keyboard and the option of several bright colors (red, pink, black and white), the Q5 will begin shipping to emerging markets—including Latin America, parts of Europe, the Middle East and Africa—in July.
Heins announced the availability of key new BlackBerry 10 apps, including Skype, and shared that the total number of BB10 apps has surpassed 120,000. One-third of developers are now targeting BlackBerry as their primary platform, Heins said, emphasizing, "This is excellent. In 12 months."
He also announced, "It's time to bring BlackBerry Messenger to a great audience, no matter what mobile device they carry."
This summer, BlackBerry's messaging app will be available to iOS and Android devices. With features like voice, screen sharing and video, Heins said the company is committed to making BBM on other platforms as "fully featured" as possible, and that the decision to offer it to other devices now is a "statement of confidence" in BlackBerry and BB10.
Heins also introduced BBM Channels, a new social engagement platform, currently in beta, for taking BBM "up a notch." Instead of contacts, it enables BBM users to engage with brands, businesses, celebrities and groups.
Among the newly launching BBM Channels is one for the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team, which sent driver Lewis Hamilton and his car to join Heins on stage. Hamilton made parallels between the companies, saying each was about speed and making connections.
"Connecting quickly with fans is really important to us, [and now] we can keep them directly involved," said Hamilton.
During his own Q&A session later, Hamilton spoke candidly and eloquently about his season, his team's current problems—its tires—and the fact that he had tried out several devices before landing with BlackBerry, which his entire team is now using. While this comment may have been meant to separate him from the mess BlackBerry Creative Director Alicia Keys stepped in, when it was revealed on Twitter that she was using an iPhone, Hamilton shrugged it off as good sense. "It's like driving lots of different cars ... then you can see what needs to be improved [in your own car]."