CES dispatches: RIM exec touts BlackBerry 10 ahead of launch

To hear Research in Motion executive Richard Piasentin tell it, the world just can’t wait for BlackBerry 10.

At a meeting we had on Wednesday here in Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show, Piasentin, managing director of RIM’s U.S. business, said that carriers and RIM’s core enterprise customers are enthusiastic about the new BlackBerry software and phones, which are slated to be unveiled later this month.

And one of the phones, a full touch-screen version, was designed specifically to appeal to consumers who have embraced similarly shaped iPhones and Android devices, he said. RIM believes that it has an opening in the market because those platforms are now getting long in the tooth and consumers are itching for something new, he said.

“The feedback we’ve gotten (on the phone and software) is phenomenal,” he said.

RIM’s designed the software and phones to appeal to both corporate IT managers and consumers. The phones have separate work and personal areas. The work side can operate behind corporations’ firewalls allowing users access to company approved applications and internal servers, while users can customize the personal side of the phone.

Playing off RIM’s longtime focus on messaging, the new software is centered on communications “hub” that offers a combined look at users’ email, text messages and social networking updates. The software also allows users to run and switch between multiple programs, allowing them to minimize them into active tiles that show the latest updates.

RIM also apparently has plans to offer an array of content options to consumers, although Piasentin declined to discuss them. The company plans to divulge those plans at BlackBerry 10’s public unveiling on Jan. 30.

Still for all of the work, thought and time RIM has put into the new software and phones, it clearly has a huge challenge in front of it. In the third quarter of last year, BlackBerry-based phones comprised just 5.3 percent of all the smartphones sold worldwide, down from 11 percent the year before, according to Gartner. While 47 percent more smartphones were sold in third quarter last year compared to the same period a year before, RIM’s sales actually fell 42 percent.

And while BlackBerry 10 is clearly a welcome update from the current BlackBerry 7, it’s not obviously superior — at least not to me — to Android or Apple’s iOS, which together account for 86 percent of all smartphone sales.

The BlackBerry Hub is not all that different from the notifications bars in Android and iOS. Both operating systems offer multi-tasking. Both have been developing and improving their enterprise features. And both have been clear hits with consumers; to a large degree many of the customers that RIM has lost in recent years are now using iPhones and Android devices.

And we’ve heard the company’s arguments in favor of BlackBerry 10 before. When Microsoft launched its Windows Phone software two years ago, it made many of the same points: This was a new take on mobile software, distinct from Android and iOS; carriers and consumers were eager for another  choice in smartphone platforms. Despite those arguments, Windows Phone has barely made a dent in the market; it was installed on just  2.4 percent of the smartphones sold in the third quarter.

So it could well be that some folks are excited about BlackBerry 10. But that doesn’t guarantee its success.



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