In an effort to reverse its decline and improve its fortunes, Research In Motion will introduce 2,000 prototype devices running its latest operating system at the company's annual BlackBerry Jam in Orlando, Fla., in May.
The Waterloo, Canada-based manufacturer, which pioneered the market for messaging on-the-go, revealed that the devices will be available to developers in an interview with Bloomberg news Friday.
'Tangible Evidence of Progress'
Alec Saunders, RIM's vice president of developer relations, told Bloomberg the move is a "huge step forward on our path to eventually launching BB10. It's tangible evidence of the company making progress to finally shipping the device."
The announcement comes as more bad news arrived in the form of Apple beating RIM on its own turf: Bloomberg and market research firm IDC found that 2.85 million iPhones were shipped to Canada in 2011, compared with 2.08 million BlackBerry phones. That's a first since the iPhone was released in 2007.
According to figures from Gartner, BlackBerry OS devices represented 11.7 percent of the global smartphone market in the second quarter of 2011, trailing behind Apple iOS with 18.2 percent, Nokia's Symbian at 22.1 percent and Google's Android, the king at 43.4 percent. In 2010, RIM was No. 2 behind Symbian with 18.7 percent, as the Android revolution was gathering steam.
To get back on top, RIM's coming BlackBerry 10 operating system will need to take huge strides, said analyst Gerry Purdy of Mobiletrax. He said the QNX system the company acquired in 2010 and has begun to integrate as BlackBerry 10 is an excellent opportunity, as it has done well in tablet form in the RIM PlayBook.
"They have been suffering from a process of transition longer than they expected and certainly much longer than they wanted," Purdy said.
That means, he said, there is no margin for error, particularly after the disappointing reception of the PlayBook. The company cut the price of the tablet to boost sales, and earlier this year issued a well-received software update.
"They have to wait until they have a really rock-solid product and can do a bigger launch," he said of the new phones. "I think they are a little bit scared and might want to put out test models so they can say, 'See, we are making progress.' This BlackBerry 10 environment for them is a really big deal. You don't want to have that sort-of half-cooked public release."
To regain ground, the new BlackBerry phones on the block will have to have a more enhanced graphic user interface and a greater range of available applications, Purdy added, but most of all must reinforce their standing with business consumers as Android and Apple gain ground in that sector, once RIM's strongest base.
"They want to be in the consumer market but they better make sure their enterprise customers are taken care of," Purdy said. "Once they have a stable, serviceable product offering, then they can always add innovations on top of that."