BlackBerry, the device-maker formerly known as Research In Motion, may have bought itself time in the smartphone market with revamped handsets and software, based on the earliest reviews of the new wares.
Z10, a phone that boasts a touch screen and the new BB10 operating system, has enough going for it to draw interest, though it’s not the kind of product that will quickly help BlackBerry win back ground lost to Apple and Google, maker of the Android software used by Samsung, according to Ed Baig, who reviews gadgets for USA Today.
“It’s very much good enough to keep RIM in the game, but is still not very likely to help the company supplant the iPhone 5 or the Android-based Samsung Galaxy S III, or help the company recapture its past glory,” Baig wrote after testing the smartphone for about a week.
The Z10 drew plaudits for camera and virtual keyboard design from The Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, who also called it a “work in progress” that lacks apps and a cloud- based system for sharing files. Bloomberg’s Rich Jaroslovsky said Z10 is “handsome, intuitive to use and a whiz at multitasking” and that it resembles an iPhone 5 at first glance — though distinctions include a bigger screen.
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Some of the most glowing praise came from New York Times reviewer David Pogue, who was impressed by Z10’s sharp display; its app, music and video stores; and a master inbox that groups all communications channels, including calls and messages from Twitter and Facebook.
“It’s lovely, fast and efficient, bristling with fresh, useful ideas,” Pogue wrote. “And here’s the shocker — it’s complete.”
The Z10 is scheduled to reach stores in March in the U.S., selling for a projected $199.
The release marks a make-or-break shift for the company, which has seen its market share fall to a quarter of what it was three years ago. BlackBerry is counting on BlackBerry 10 to reverse that slide and return to profitability. The stock dropped after today’s unveiling, falling 12 percent to $13.78 at the close in New York, suggesting that investors remain skeptical about the company’s prospects.
Die-hard BlackBerry fans may balk at Z10’s lack of a physical keyboard, while iPhone and Android users may “shun it for its small selection of apps and lack of native cloud services,” Mossberg wrote.
BlackBerry 10 features include separate work and personal profiles; timesaving ways to multitask without closing applications; video chat with live screen sharing; and more than 70,000 applications. The touch screen on the Z10 has already earned early raves for its accurate auto-correct and predictive text, multi-language capabilities within the same email, and use of flicks and swipes to quickly select or delete words.
Chief Executive Thorsten Heins quickly set out to dispel notions that BlackBerry was on its way out.
“We have definitely been on a journey of transformation,” he told a crowd of reporters and bloggers in New York. “Today is not the finish line, it’s the starting line.”
In a surprise announcement, RIM also changed its name to BlackBerry, a move that Heins said would unite the company behind the same brand. Its new ticker symbol will be BBRY.
In the U.S., wireless carriers AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint will carry BlackBerry 10 devices. Heins said he expected the Z10 to be available with “most” carriers in March. Verizon has announced it will sell the Z10 for $199 with a two-year contract.
The question now will be whether consumers respond to the new OS and phones, particularly in the U.S. and other regions where BlackBerrys had lost favor to Apple’s iPhones and devices running Google’s Android operating system. Analysts have said it will be difficult to change the perception that BlackBerrys are no longer at the cutting edge, and have warned that this may be the company’s last chance to get it right.
That’s why BlackBerry shares tumbled 12 percent after the debut, signaling that investors are skeptical the new models can win back customers from Apple and Google’s Android.
“I don’t think it’s going to be dramatically better,” said Roger Entner, an analyst with Recon Analytics. “At least not good enough to get people to switch from Apple iOS or Android.”
Material from Los Angeles Times is included in this report.