New touchscreen BlackBerry in Canadian stores Feb. 5

Research In Motion changes its name to BlackBerry

Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Canada’s smartphone pioneer will have a new BlackBerry in Canadian stores next Tuesday, the start of a new chapter for a rebranded company that’s seen its once dominant position trounced by the competition.

The BlackBerry Z10, a touchscreen model, will be the first to hit the shelves while the BlackBerry Q10, which will have a physical keyboard, will follow in April — a move that was signalled last year by the company.

Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) made the announcement Wednesday at a splashy unveiling in New York City, where it also let it be known the company will now go by the name BlackBerry.

The new BlackBerry models are widely seen as a make-or-break product for the company — the BlackBerry 10 devices were originally due for release last year.

Chief executive Thorsten Heins took to the stage at Pier 36, a massive entertainment venue on the shores of the East River, to unveil the two phones. Both are powered by the new BB10 operating system.

Heins called the event a “new day in the history of BlackBerry.”

“We heard you loud and clear,” Heins told the audience, in reference to the keyboard model. “We built this for those people who said they just had to have the physical keyboard typing experience.”

The BlackBerry Z10’s price will vary by carrier, but the company said it will sell for around $149.99 on a three-year contract. Pricing for the physical keyboard model was not released.

Rogers, Bell, Telus, Virgin, SaskTel, Koodo, and Fido are among the carrier partners, while Walmart, Future Shop, Best Buy, and The Source are some of the retail partners.

Canadian specific apps include offerings from the NHL, CBC, Tim Hortons, Air Canada, RBC, and ING Direct.

The new phone launch is BlackBerry’s attempt to regain its position in the highly competitive North American and European smartphone markets, which are now dominated by iPhone and Android devices.

While the first hurdles to overcome are the opinions of tech analysts and investor reaction, the true measure of success — actual sales of the phones — is still weeks away.

Among the features being touted at Wednesday’s event:

— As you type, the operating system predicts what word you want and you can swipe to have it auto-completed.

— BlackBerry Hub acts as one place for all incoming messages, email, BBM, social media.

— BlackBerry Balance then allows one phone to operate as both a business and personal device entirely separate from each other.

— Apps have been divided into two sections by tabs at the top of the screen, labelled Personal and Work.

— The new BlackBerry will also let users seamlessly shift between the phone’s applications like they’re flipping between pages on a desk.

BlackBerry also announced that singer Alicia Keys is joining the company as its new global creative director. Heins noted that Keys brings a “vast network of relationships in the entertainment, social media and business communities,” to the company.

RIM shares had gained as much as four per cent ahead of the launch in Wednesday morning trading. But the stock later fell almost seven per cent from Tuesday’s closing price, down $1.08 to $14.63 on the TSX following the start of the presentation.

Trading volume was heavy — 14.3 million shares traded hands before noon.

The stock had declined over the past two sessions — 3.4 per cent Tuesday and a 7.6 per cent drop on Monday.

But that was viewed merely as profit taking as the stock has staged a huge comeback since hitting a fresh 52-week low of $6.10 last September. As of last Friday, RIM’s share price had soared 50 per cent during January alone.

The BlackBerry has dramatically lost marketshare in recent years after a series of blunders.

Several network outages left customers without the use of the smartphones they had come to rely on, while the BlackBerry’s hardware hadn’t received a significant upgrade in years.

In the coming weeks, BlackBerry will launch an advertising blitz to promote the phones, including aggressive social media campaigning, which includes plugs from celebrities on their Twitter accounts, and a 30-second advertisement on the Super Bowl, the most watched television program of the year.

The rebranded company will also come with new ticker symbols. On the Toronto Stock Exchange, BlackBerry will trade under the symbol BB while on the Nasdaq the ticker will be BBRY.

— with files from Michael Oliveira in Toronto

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