The BlackBerry has been reborn. But the question remains: Who will buy it?
With Wednesday’s introduction of a new operating system and two new smartphone designs, BlackBerry is launching a last-ditch effort to regain relevance. As part of the makeover, the phone’s manufacturer is dropping its 25-year-old name, Research in Motion, and will now be known by the name of its signature product: BlackBerry.
“This is not the finish line; this is the starting line,” said Thorsten Heins, the company’s chief executive.
That optimism comes against a dreary backdrop. The new operating system was delayed by more than two years by technical problems, while the smartphone market became more competitive.
Once the standard corporate smartphone, the BlackBerry has fallen out of favor in the face of the iPhone and phones running Google’s Android operating system. Even stalwart users that rely on the phones’ security features, such as the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, have allowed some employees to adopt other smartphones.
BlackBerry once dominated the smartphone market, but recent International Data Corp. findings show that its market share dropped from 10.3 percent to 4.6 percent between 2011 and 2012.
To claw its way back, said Ramon Llamas, a mobile researcher for IDC, BlackBerry must leverage those who have stuck by the brand — out of affection for physical keyboards or confidence in the platform’s security — as its best marketing tool.
BlackBerry stands a chance if it can get loyalists to “evangelize the platform,” Llamas said.
Investors didn’t appear so sure. The company’s stock climbed nearly 100 percent over the past three months in anticipation of an impressive system launch, but it plummeted 12 percent Wednesday.
The new system, BlackBerry 10, is a marked improvement on its outdated predecessor. It’s built for deep social integration and fast typing, while allowing users to keep their work and personal data separate. BlackBerry heavily courted developers to build corporate and consumer software for its anemic ecosystem, landing apps that range from Angry Birds to business software from SAP. Heins, focusing on the company’s appeal with business customers, said repeatedly that the phones are built for work and play.
BlackBerry released two phone models running on the new operating system — one with a physical keyboard and one without — with sleek, iPhone-like designs that depart from the clunky BlackBerry phones of old.
But even with good hardware and software, BlackBerry has to compete against Apple and Google, which hold more than 90 percent of the market and come out with new products every year.
“It’s hard to get traction for a new platform,” BCG Partners analyst Colin Gillis said. “There’s a good chance that this is the phone a lot of people think about but few people buy.”
The company is keenly aware that it has a lot of ground to regain. Even the company’s new creative director, singer Alicia Keys, said that she dropped her BlackBerry after seeing better-looking, more modern phones on the market.
Regaining customers like Keys is essential to BlackBerry’s success.
Heins said the phones will be available worldwide starting in February. In the United States, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile will carry the new BlackBerry. Verizon Wireless said it will offer the touch-screen phone for $199.99, but did not provide more details.
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