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As It Happened: Two New BlackBerry Phones Attempt to Revive Fading Brand

Can RIM come back from the brink with a new operating system and two new devices?
January 30, 2013

At an event in New York today struggling Canadian phone-maker BlackBerry unveiled two new devices intended to reverse the company’s tumbling market share. The Q10, with physical keyboard, and the Z10, without, will become available in March. MIT Technology Review’s chief correspondent David Talbot posted live updates from the event, which boasted theatrical production values, simulcasts around the globe, and Alicia Keys.

11:25 a.m. Keys says she is going to work with carriers, app developers, and retailers? Really? Yes, she did just say that. “I’ll see you in the office,” says Keys enigmatically, as she exits stage right. No song. How sad. 

Heins says: “I want all of you here to be among the first users.” They are going to let us demo some phones, so I’m stepping out now to do just that. Thanks for reading

11:13 a.m. The new devices will be available in the U.S. on Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile in March. Pricing will vary but it’ll be $199.99. Not too shabby. What does the market think of all this? Earlier this morning, RIMM was up 4 percent. Now it’s down 4 percent.

11:08 a.m. “This is the new Blackberry,” says Heins. There will be TV and music content available, too, he says.

Martyn Mallick, VP of content, is now coming up to talk about some content alliances. “We already have more than 70,000 applications” available, he says. There will be over 1,000 top applications, including Angry Birds, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, and others. And apps from the New York Times, the Economist, and the Wall Street Journal.

11:05 a.m. Here’s a demo of Time Share. You can shoot a video and then move a little circle with your finger and choose which moment was the best—and that becomes the picture. And there’s a picture editor right there that lets you do Instagram-like things to your picture.

11:02 a.m. Now comes some “exciting news” about BlackBerry Messenger: it’ll let you make video calls. In a demo they go from a regular chat straight to a video call and share the whole screen. In other words, during the video chat, you can show your video chat partner pictures or documents that are on your screen.

10:50 a.m. Now to the touch screen. If you type on the glass screen with one thumb, you’ll get suggested words. You don’t have to go through menus to get to symbols and such-like. Interesting. You see little suggested words actually displayed under the letters on the keypad. You can switch between “personal” and “work” modes using something called “balance.” That’s an obvious play to appeal to corporate customers. Your company controls the corporate side of the device. You control the personal side.

10:41 a.m. Here comes some corporate stuff. If you have a meeting with someone, you can quickly sniff him out online, such as on LinkedIn, and see your past interactions with him. “All of this historical timeline comes together.” You don’t have to open other apps and websites to get this stuff. It’s “a very strong concept,” says Heins.  Worth testing out to see how well it really works, naturally.

10:35 a.m. Vivek Bhardwaj, head of software, now coming on. Talking about BlackBerry Hub  and BlackBerry Flow. You can move between them easily and swipe between them–all apps are running. Nothing is being paused, it’s “real multitasking,” he says. He’s playing a video–you get a brief alert saying something else comes in–you can swipe the screen to see what it is without shutting down the video. That’s reasonably cool.

Says Heins: “With this Flow, we have designed user interface, so that only one thumb and you have full control.”

10:29 a.m. “We proudly present the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10.” All right. Both seem to have nice, large displays–much like the iPhone5 and many other devices. The back of each device is textured and curved “so it feels good in your hand.” And the Q10 has a physical keyboard! “We know there are a lot of physical keyboard lovers out there,” he says, adding that these devices have “the best typing experience in the industry.”  What’s the evidence for that?  Hopefully we will find out

10:28 a.m. What does true mobile computing mean? “You will be in the middle of your personal Internet of things, constantly connected to all of your information in real time.” From this point forward, RIM becomes BlackBerry.” So he’s changing the company name. BBRY on Nasdaq. Okay.

10:19 a.m. “Now, finally, here we are,” Heins says. He’s praising employees and praising company innovation. “This is one of the biggest launches in our industry and today isn’t the finish line, it’s the starting line,” he says. “It’s for people who are hyper connected socially and have an appetite for getting things done and want to get the most out of their smartphones, and need balance in personal and professional lives.

10:17 a.m. Here comes CEO Thorsten Heins amid flashing red lights. Heins speaks of a “journey of transformation,” and “A journey from mobile communications to true mobile computing.”

10:15 a.m. Someone called “Crackberry Kevin” promised not to get his hair cut until BlackBerry 10 launched. Here come the scissors. Okay, let’s get on with it.

10:10 a.m. Here comes VP of developer relations Alec Saunders. He says he’s flown 2.5 million miles to promote BB10. “We’re been seeing a huge groundswell of support from developers,” Saunders says. “We have put together what is, bar none, the largest catalogue of applications for a first-generation product launch in mobile.”

10:05 a.m.  RIM has crowds at London Dubai, Toronto, and Johannesburg for simulcasts. They’re playing videos of people offering testimonials of their excitement. The CEO is about to appear.

09:52 a.m. A black curtain has opened and we’re shuffling into another couple of (carpeted) basketball courts. I feel like I have Section C floor seats at the Fleet Center and am awaiting the appearance of Coldplay—blue lights swirling around and thumping tunes. I’m hearing some nearby chatter about BlackBerry offering “time-shifted photos.” That’s an app that allows you to take a burst of frames—say, of a group of people—and then pick among the facial expressions to get one optimal shot. Will business customers care?  That is another question.

09:45 AM: About 700 people are filling a retrofitted basketball complex on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, awaiting details about the BlackBerry 10–RIM’s Hail Mary, if you will. I’ll be live blogging about all the details once the event gets underway in a few minutes.  While waiting be sure to read colleague Rachel Metz’ take on RIM’s comeback plan.

Here’s a banner on display here at “Basketball City” on South Street.

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