Research In Motion Ltd. (Nasdaq: RIMM) is releasing three new versions of its BlackBerry smartphone simultaneously in the first overhaul of the handsets in a year as the company tries to regain ground against Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)
RIM is introducing the first touchscreen version of its Bold model, plus an updated Torch slider phone and a new touchscreen-only BlackBerry, all based on RIM’s new BlackBerry 7.0 platform, said Patrick Spence, managing director for global sales and regional marketing. The three devices will be available from 225 carriers, with some operators starting next week, in the “biggest launch in the history of BlackBerry,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday.
The new phones as described by RIM:
- BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9930 Smartphones with Touch Display and Keyboard
“The BlackBerry Bold 9900 series is the thinnest BlackBerry smartphone yet (at only 10.5mm) and the first to offer the perfect union of a high performance keyboard and touch display integrated within the iconic BlackBerry Bold design. The new BlackBerry Bold 9900 and 9930 are also the first BlackBerry smartphones to include built-in support for NFC (Near Field Communications), a new technology that is enabling many new and exciting capabilities, including the ability to pair accessories or read SmartPoster tags with a simple tap of the smartphone. Distinguished by its beautiful design, amazingly effective keyboard and brilliant touch display, the BlackBerry Bold 9900 series is crafted with premium materials including a brushed stainless steel frame that puts the finishing touch on a truly outstanding smartphone.”
- BlackBerry Torch 9810 Smartphone with Touch Display and Slide-Out Keyboard
“Building on the popular design of the BlackBerry Torch 9800, the new BlackBerry Torch 9810 is faster and more fluid with high performance hardware features and the new BlackBerry 7 OS delivering an enhanced multimedia experience. Featuring a large 3.2”, high resolution touch display and a distinctive BlackBerry keyboard that easily slides out to allow faster typing, the BlackBerry Torch 9810 truly delivers the best of both worlds.”
- All-Touch BlackBerry Torch 9850 and 9860 Smartphones
“The BlackBerry Torch 9850 and 9860 smartphones offer the fast, fluid BlackBerry 7 experience in a stylish new all-touch design. With a spectacular new 3.7” display, the largest ever on a BlackBerry smartphone, the new all-touch BlackBerry Torch 9850 and 9860 smartphones are optimized for displaying web pages, photos, videos, and powerful gaming experiences and still deliver the real-time communication and collaboration experience loved by millions of BlackBerry smartphone users around the world.”
(Read more about the new phones here.)
First new models in a year
RIM, which has three research and development offices in the Research Triangle Park, N.C. area, is counting on the phones, the first new models since August 2010, to reverse a revenue slowdown that led to RIM’s prediction in June that sales this quarter may drop for the first time in nine years. All the models include pinch-and-zoom browsing and Web-page loading speeds that are 40 percent faster than the old Torch, said Spence.
“We’re taking it a step further by enhancing the browsing experience, which is something we know we had to work on,” he said. With the addition of what RIM calls liquid graphics that render images faster and make zooming smoother, “it’s an industry-leading experience,” he said.
While the Waterloo, Ontario-based company continues to gain market share in regions like Africa and the Middle East at the expense of Nokia Oyj (NOK1V), RIM is losing customers in the U.S. to Apple’s iPhone and handsets running Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android software. Those devices appealed to consumers with their Web browsing features and a wider selection of applications.
U.S. Market Share
RIM’s share of U.S. smartphone subscribers dropped 4.2 percentage points to 24.7 percent for the three months through May, according to ComScore Inc. (SCOR)
“They’ve definitely narrowed the gap with the competition,” Will Stofega, a technology analyst at Framingham, Massachussetts-based IDC, said of RIM’s new devices. “Display is definitely crisper and had to be, given what we’ve seen in terms of its competitors.”
The new Bold 9900, first shown at RIM’s BlackBerry World trade show in May, features a larger keyboard and thinner case. The Torch 9810 with slide-out keyboard looks similar to the first edition of the device. The last of the three new phones, the Torch 9850, is RIM’s first touchscreen-only phone since the BlackBerry Storm, which was criticized for software glitches.
Spence declined to say whether that older model was being discontinued, saying only that “we’re trying to keep it as clear as possible with a Torch, Bold and Curve family when you look at the BlackBerry portfolio.”
The BlackBerry Curve, one of RIM’s most popular models in emerging markets, may soon be available with a touch screen, he said.
“We’ll be back shortly to talk to you about the Curve,” Spence said, declining to say more.
The introduction of the new phones comes at a critical time for RIM. Last week, the company said it will cut cut 2,000 jobs to rein in costs, leaving the company with about 17,000 employees. These phones are set to be the last models that use the BlackBerry operating system as the company shifts to a platform called QNX that is at the heart of RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.
With the new BlackBerry 7 phones debuting now, “they’ve quelled a lot of concerns,” said IDC’s Stofega. “The sooner they get to QNX devices, the better.”
RIM fell 64 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $24.15 yesterday in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. Before today, the stock had dropped 58 percent this year.
In the same week as the job cuts, RIM introduced a new version of its popular BlackBerry Messenger instant-messaging platform that will let consumers use their own applications with BBM, as it’s known. BlackBerry 7 is designed to capitalize on the BBM software and offer voice-activated search, Andrew Bocking, vice-president of BlackBerry Software, said in the joint interview with Spence.
The Torch slider has a 3.2-inch display, the Torch 9850’s screen measures 3.7 inches, and the Bold 9900 has a 2.8-inch screen.
The new phones also feature near-field communications, or NFC capability, that is gradually being adopted as a means of scanning information or making payments by tapping your device against a reader.
Individual carriers will make their own announcements about details on pricing and availability, Bocking said.
While new BlackBerrys have typically gone on sale first in the U.S., neither Spence nor Bocking would say which markets will debut the new phones first. The U.S., which accounted for about 40 percent of revenue last year, has to be among the first with rivals preparing to debut new devices before the back-to- school season, said Stofega.
“It’s critical that they get a jump start now,” he said.
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