Research In Motion Ltd unveiled on Wednesday the long-delayed line of smartphones it hopes will put the company on the comeback trail in a market it once dominated, but said sales of the BlackBerry 10 in the United States will not start until March.
Signaling his hopes for a fresh start for the company that pioneered on-your-hip email, Chief Executive Thorsten Heins also said RIM was abandoning the name it has used since its inception in 1985 to take on the name of its signature product.
"From this point forward, RIM becomes BlackBerry." Heins said at the New York launch. "It is one brand; it is one promise."
RIM launched its first BlackBerry back in 1999 as a way for busy executives to stay in touch with their clients and their offices, and the Canadian company quickly cornered the market for secure corporate and government email.
But its star faded as competition rose. The BlackBerry is now a far-behind also-ran in the race for market share, with a 3.4 percent global showing in the fourth quarter, down from 20 percent three years before. Its North American market share is even worse: a mere 2 percent in the fourth quarter.
RIM said the first of the new BlackBerrys will be available on Thursday in Britain, with other countries following as carriers complete their testing.
In the U.S. market, which sets trends that other countries follow, the BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen device will go on sale in March. U.S. carrier Verizon Wireless said the phone would cost $199 for a two-year contract, while Canada's Rogers Communications is quoting C$149 ($150) for certain three-year plans.
RIM shares initially rallied on Wednesday, but soon fell as much as 8 percent below Tuesday's close. The stock is down 90 percent from its 2008 peak as the BlackBerry has lost ground to rival devices. But in the last four months its volatile shares have more than doubled as buzz grew about the new devices.
"It was such a well-advertised launch date that people moved the stock up and then they took profits ahead of when it was going to be revealed," said Ian Nakamoto, director of research at Macdougall, Macdougall and Mactier in Toronto.
"For RIM, it's a normal stock market day. It would have been an abnormal stock market day if it had got cut in half or something."
The legal name change to BlackBerry from Research In Motion takes affect after shareholders approve the decision, but the company already plans to do business under the BlackBerry name.
"We want our employees to say, 'I work for BlackBerry.' Our customers to say, 'I own a BlackBerry.' Our shareholders to say, 'I own BlackBerry stock,'" said chief marketing officer Frank Boulben. "We want to become what I'd call a branded house versus a house of brands."
The new BlackBerry 10 phones will compete with Apple's iPhone and devices using Google's Android technology, both of which have soared above the BlackBerry in a competitive market.
The BlackBerry 10 devices boast fast browsers, new features, smart cameras and, unlike previous BlackBerry models, enter the market primed with a large application library, including services such as Skype and the popular game Angry Birds.
The new devices are sleek black numbers, one with the small "qwerty" keyboard that RIM made into its trademark, and one a pure touchscreen device that looks much like those its competitors already produce.
"QWERTY" DEVICE IN APRIL
The Q10 "qwerty" device will launch later than the Z10 touchscreen. Heins said it would hit global markets in April.
RIM picked a range of venues for its global launch parties, including Dubai's $650-a-night Armani Hotel, which occupies six floors of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower.
The New York event took place in a sprawling basketball facility on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, just north of the Manhattan Bridge. The Blackberry has been "Re-designed. Re-engineered. Re-invented," RIM said.
RIM, which is splurging on a Superbowl ad to promote its new phones, also introduced Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Alicia Keys as its global creative director.
"I was in a long-term relationship with BlackBerry, and then I started to notice some new, kind of hotter, attractive, sexier phones at the gym, and I kind of broke up with you for something that had a little more bling," Keys said at the New York launch.
"But I always missed the way you organized my life, and the way you were there for me at my job, and so I started to have two phones - I was kind of playing the field. But then ... you added a lot more features ... and now, we're exclusively dating again, and I'm very happy."
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