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Rebranded BlackBerry taps Alicia Keys in comeback effort

NEW YORK: BlackBerry launched its comeback effort on Wednesday with a revamped operating system and a pair of sleek new handsets, plus a company name change as the smartphone maker moves to reinvent itself.
Canadian-based Research in Motion changed its name to BlackBerry as it launched the BlackBerry 10, the new platform aimed at helping the firm regain traction in a market now dominated by rivals.
“From this point forward, RIM becomes BlackBerry,” chief executive Thorsten Heins told a glitzy unveiling in New York, one of six global events for the product launch. “It is one brand. It is one promise.”
The new BlackBerry “will transform mobile communications into true mobile computing,” Heins said.
Heins presented two devices, the touchscreen-only Z10 and the Q10 model, which contains BlackBerry’s trademark keyboard.
The release of the new handsets will be staggered over the next couple of months. One of the phones will be available in Britain from Thursday, and Canadians will be able to buy one February 5.
In the critical US market, the device will not be available until March, although leading carriers like AT&T and Verizon are unveiling plans now, Heins said.
The company also introduced recording star Alicia Keys as its new global creative director.
Heins said the new BlackBerry is not just about new platforms and products, but “engaging with successful entrepreneurs and working moms,” and that Keys would play a role in that effort.
Keys, who said she had returned to BlackBerry after flirting with other devices, said her job would allow her to “work with people in the entertainment and music business” to help enhance the BlackBerry experience.
The launch is seen as critical to BlackBerry, which had been the dominant smartphone maker before Apple launched its iPhone and others began using the Google Android operating system.
“This is the first step in BlackBerry’s recovery and I think they did a good job so far, but there are still so many more steps,” independent analyst Jeff Kagan said. “We’ll have to wait and see, but so far, so good.”
Kagan said the new BlackBerry “will be a strong competitor for the number three position. They won’t come close to number one or two where Google and Apple are, but the market does want more choices.”
BlackBerry has traditionally scored best with corporate clients who have been partial to the device’s reputation for greater network security.
However, the smartphone market has been changing radically as more companies shift to a “bring your own device,” or BYOD, model in which companies let workers choose their smartphone.
Heins’ pitch appeared geared to both corporate and rank-and-file consumers. He emphasized the ease with which users can, with the flick of a finger, switch between e-mails and applications.
Other features include the capacity for users to share in real-time screens and complex data from two different locales on a messaging system. The phone also features an efficient writing device in which writers can flick a single character and generate an entire word in English, French, German or other languages.
Heins said the device was geared for “people who are hyper connected socially” and “people who like to get things done.”
RIM’s recent performance on Wall Street suggests the market is open to the BlackBerry 10. Shares have risen more than 30 percent since the start of the year, although they dropped back over the last two sessions.
Carolina Milanesi, an analyst for Gartner who specializes in consumer devices, said a successful launch will at least give them a shot to get into the game” but that BlackBerry has little room for error, after a launch delayed for several months.
“They will not be forgiven for any mistakes,” she said.
BlackBerry shares fell 4.4 percent after the launch to $14.97 in late morning trade.
According to research firm IDC, BlackBerry’s share of the global smartphone market slipped to 4.7 percent in 2012, compared to 68 percent for Android and 18.8 percent for Apple’s iOS.

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