BlackBerry maker Research in Motion reinvented itself with a revamped operating system, two new smartphones and a name change during a global launch Wednesday.
The Canadian smartphone maker -- cast off by many consumers and analysts as a has-been tech company struggling to stay afloat -- showed off its long-overdue BlackBerry 10 operating system and two phones: the touchscreen-only Z10 and a traditional physical keyboard model called the Q10.
BlackBerry 10 features include separate work and personal profiles; time-saving ways to multi-task without closing applications; video chat with live screensharing; and more than 70,000 apps. The touchscreen 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.
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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.
Still, Wall Street wasn't impressed. BlackBerry's shares, which had been on a sharp upswing and more than doubled over the last three months, plummeted as much as 8% following the news. Shares were down $1.19, or 7.6%, to $14.47 at 9:10 a.m. PST.
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. U.S carriers will start announcing pre-registration and price plans Wednesday; Verizon has already announced it will sell the Z10 for $199 with a two-year contract.
The question now will be whether consumers -- particularly those in the U.S. and other regions where BlackBerrys had lost favor to iPhones and Android-powered devices -- respond to the new OS and phones. Analysts have said it'll be difficult to change the perception that BlackBerrys are no longer cool, and have warned that this may be the company's last chance to get it right.
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