NEW YORK — Research In Motion, in a packed event here and via a video feed streaming to parties around the world, introduced BlackBerry 10, the from-scratch new mobile platform and smartphones that have been two years in the making.
But first, CEO Thorsten Heins had an announcement: Research In Motion has officially changed its name to BlackBerry.
“The new starting line that today represents starts with one consistent brand,” Heins said during the Jan. 30 event.
Another big announcement: RIM has hired singer-songwriter, woman extraordinaire Alicia Keys to be its global creative director—but more on that later.
Without further ado, Heins, with software head Vivek Bhardwaj, showed off the newest BlackBerry handsets: the BlackBerry Z10, which features a 4.2-inch touch-screen, and the BlackBerry Q10, which pairs a 3.1-inch display with a QWERTY keyboard.
The Z10 will launch in the U.K. Jan. 31, Canada Feb. 5 and various other places around the world over the following weeks. In the United States, don’t expect one before mid-March. Heins, careful not to place blame, suggested that the U.S. carriers have particularly lengthy approval processes.
For the same reason, the Q10 won’t arrive in the United States until at least mid-April.
But on to the good news: These are impressive devices, likely to please the BlackBerry faithful who have been waiting for a refresh. They may even inspire a few converts. (Keys said she feels passionately that people should stop carrying a “work phone and a play phone,” which naturally she thinks BlackBerry 10 makes possible.)
The Q10 and Z10 feature a back-cover material created exclusively for BlackBerry. Heins said it’s “thinner, lighter and stronger than plastic. And it looks beautiful.”
This was an interesting aspect of the presentation, as there was little mention of the physical devices, and no talk of weight or measurements. They looked attractive enough, but it wasn’t their exteriors that impressed. Instead, it was their platform that stood out.
Also noteworthy was the almost zero mention of email or servers.
Heins and Bhardwaj made a video call to a colleague in London from inside BlackBerry Messenger. Better, during the call, they showed off Screenshare, a feature that enabled the colleague to not just share a document but his entire display as he saw it, meaning that he could cruise through his photos, pull up a spreadsheet, click through a Website or play a video, and Heins and Bhardwaj would see it all exactly as he saw it.
Another new BlackBerry 10 feature is Remember—a place for things that users want to, well, remember. Emails can be tagged to Remember, Websites can be saved there, and users can organize the information there for better efficiency.
They also showed off Flow and Hub and Peak—playing a video and then, without pausing it, gently pulling it aside to see if the email that came into the inbox behind it was of any importance. It wasn’t.
They pulled up a contact and showed how in real time the device populated information about the user from various social networks, offering his photo and contact information, but also details, from LinkedIn, like what university he attended—details that could help a person feel she was headed into a meeting reminded of who the contact is, or at least be a bit informed.
They also moved between apps without returning to a home screen.
RIM Unveils BlackBerry Z10, Q10 Smartphones Based on BB10 Platform
Heins and company have shown off these features before, but they continue to be compelling.
The pair also showed off Timeshift—a camera feature that enables a user to adjust an image slightly backward in time, until, say, before a person blinked—and Storymaker software that makes it possible to click on a few photos and videos, choose a song, and view an instantly edited-together short film. It’s the answer to what to do with the photos and videos from that weekend getaway or birthday party.
And it can all also be completed with one hand and one thumb. “One thumb and you have full control of everything you want to do,” exclaimed Heins.
And of course, the BlackBerry World app store was also a focus. It now has more than 70,000 apps, but by BB10’s U.S. launch, that number is expected to exceed 100,000.
“We will launch with an amazing collection of TV shows, music and movies,” promised Marty Mallick, senior director of business development at RIM—er, BlackBerry.
Mallick promised that BB10 will launch with “more than 1,000 top apps from around the world, committed to BlackBerry10. … No one will feel they’re lacking in apps on BlackBerry 10.”
Heins said that BlackBerry 10 is “an entirely new way of thinking on an entirely new platform,” but added that the day’s events were not only about unveiling a new product, but also about “changing a culture.”
“Our success will come from listening to our customers. We are engaging in conversations with entrepreneurs and artists … and working moms—the largest growing sector of the workspace.”
Toward that end, he continued, RIM had added a new position. While “brand ambassador” seems potentially a more appropriate title for the lovely, feisty, engaging Keys—who called her new Z10 “fly” and joked with Heins that she’d see him at the office—she’s been hired, as mentioned above, to be BlackBerry’s global creative director.
Keys said she’s going to work with everyone from the app designers to the carriers to “other super women who also love BlackBerry” to “inspire creative projects. And most importantly … I want to enhance this concept of bridging the gap between work and play.”
When asked again later during a press conference what exactly she will do, Keys answered, in part: “I’m dedicated [to this position]. There’s a real synchronicity between me and BlackBerry. … It’s about how do we function, how do we manage as business people. … What I will be able to do with BlackBerry 10 is enhance the creative, entertainment and female-driven side of the company.”
Hers was a long, involved answer that didn’t exactly answer all that was being asked, but that, like BlackBerry’s overall presentation, made a person think: This might just work out.