BlackBerry launches long-awaited comeback campaign

NEW YORK (AP) — A new generation of more

versatile BlackBerry smartphones is finally about to hit the market

after excruciating

delays allowed mobile devices made by Apple, Samsung and others to

build commanding leads in a market that is redefining society.

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd.

formally unveiled its long-awaited line-up of revamped smartphones and

software Wednesday

at simultaneous events held in New York, Toronto, London, Paris,

Dubai, Johannesburg, Jakarta and Delhi.

In a move underscoring the stakes riding on

its make-or-break product line-up, the Canadian company used the

occasion to announce

it is changing its name to BlackBerry — a pioneering brand that

has lost its cachet since Apple's 2007 release of the iPhone

reset expectations for what a smartphone should do.

The first devices in the new crop of

BlackBerrys will be called the Q10, which will feature a physical

keyboard like previous

versions of the phone, and the Z10 will have only touch-screen

keyboard, like Apple Inc.'s trend-setting iPhone and other

handsets running on Google Inc.'s Android software, including

Samsung's popular Galaxy. They will run on a redesigned operating

system called BlackBerry 10, which the company began working on

after buying QNX Software Systems in 2010.

The new software and BlackBerrys were

supposed to be released a year ago, only to be delayed while Apple and

Android device

makers won more zealous converts to their products. In the

meantime, Microsoft Corp. also rolled out a new Windows operating

system for smartphones, confronting RIM with another technology

powerhouse to battle.

The delays in developing the new BlackBerrys helped wipe out $70 billion in shareholder wealth and 5,000 jobs.

"It is the most challenging year of my career," said RIM CEO Thorsten Heins, whose anniversary leading the company occurred

last week. "It is also the most exhilarating and exciting one."

The wait for U.S. smartphone users

interested in buying the new BlackBerry line still isn't over. The Z10

won't be released

in the U.S. until March and the Q10 might not arrive in the

country until April, Heins said, to give wireless carriers more

time to test the product. All the major U.S. carriers plan to sell

the new BlackBerrys. The estimated U.S. prices for the

phones weren't announced, though.

The Z10, which BlackBerry will call the "Zed-10" outside the U.S., will go on sale Thursday in United Kingdom Thursday. The

same model will be released in Canada on Feb. 5 and will cost about $150 there with a three-year wireless contract.

Despite their limited availability until

March, the new BlackBerrys will be hailed in a commercial Sunday during

CBS's telecast

of the Super Bowl. RIM hasn't disclosed how much that will cost,

but some 30-second spots during the game have been sold for

as much as $4 million.

BGC Financial analyst Colin Gills said the

new phones' tardy arrival to the U.S. threatens to cause even more

BlackBerry users

to defect to the iPhone or an Android device. By the time, the Z10

goes on sale in the U.S. Gillis suspects many geeks will

be waiting to see what Google plans to unveil in Mid-May at an

annual conference that usually includes new gadgets.

Wednesday's event didn't go over well on

Wall Street. RIM's stock shed 93 cents, or nearly 6 percent, to $14.73

in afternoon

trading. The shares have still more than doubled from their

nine-year low of $6.22 reached in September, but are still nearly

90 percent below their peak of $147 reached in 2008 when the

iPhone was still a novelty trying to break into the mainstream.

Repeated delays and years of blundering have

turned the once-iconic BlackBerry into an also ran as the iPhone and

Android

devices raced ahead with crowd-pleasing innovations. That has led

some analysts to question whether the company that helped

create the smartphone market will survive, especially as its

losses have mounted in the past year.

Yet there was renewed optimism heading into

Wednesday's event. Previews of the BlackBerry 10 software have gotten

favorable

reviews on blogs. Financial analysts are starting to see some room

for a comeback. RIM redesigned the system to embrace the

multimedia, apps and touch-screen experience prevalent today. The

Q10 is meant to cater to people who still prefer a typing

on a physical keyboard instead of a display screen.

Besides promising a better typing experience, the new BlackBerrys are supposed to run faster, pull up multiple applications

simultaneously and enable users to separate their professional and personal lives with a feature called "Balance."

"Gone are the days of going back and forth and in and out between applications," said Andrew MacLeod, RIM's managing director

for Canada. "It's cumbersome, it's inefficient and it's slow."

Doubts remain about the ability of BlackBerry 10 to rescue RIM.

"We'll see if they can reclaim their glory.

My sense is that it will be a phone that everyone says good things about

but not

as many people buy," Gillis said. He thinks the company will need

to sell at least 5 million BlackBerrys each quarter to remain

viable.

Ovum analyst Adam Leach thinks the new

system will appeal to existing BlackBerry users, but that won't be

enough to undercut

the popularity of the iPhone and Android devices. He predicted

that BlackBerry "will struggle to appeal to a wider audience,

and in the long-term will become a niche player in the smartphone

market."

Avi Greengart of Current Analysis said RIM

will need a persuasive marketing campaign to lure back former BlackBerry

fans who

have switched to iPhones or Android devices. "They need to

convince consumers that their approach to mobile computing matches

how a subset of people feel about themselves," Greengart said.

Jefferies analyst Peter Misek called the redesigned BlackBerry a "great device" that could lead to a revival that many market

observers didn't think was possible at RIM's low point last year.

"Six months ago we talked to developers and carriers, and everybody was just basically saying 'We're just waiting for this

to go bust,'" Misek said. "It was bad."

The BlackBerry has been the dominant

smartphone for on-the-go business people and crossed over to consumers.

But when the

iPhone came out, it proved phones can do much more than email and

phone calls. Suddenly, the BlackBerry looked ancient. In

the U.S., according to research firm IDC, shipments of BlackBerry

phones plummeted from 46 percent of the market in 2008 to

2 percent in 2012.

Regardless of BlackBerry 10's advances,

though, the new system will face a key shortcoming: It won't have as

many apps written

by outside companies and individuals as the iPhone and Android.

RIM has said it plans to launch BlackBerry 10 with more than

70,000 apps, including those developed for RIM's PlayBook tablet,

first released in 2011. Even so, that's just a tenth of

what the iPhone and Android offer. Popular services such as

Instagram and Netflix won't have apps on BlackBerry 10.