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New York - There was a time when the world loved BlackBerry. Kids adored its messenger service, corporate titans favoured its Qwerty keypad (so much easier to tap out those mission-critical emails on the move), while everyone from Cristiano Ronaldo to P Diddy, Lady Gaga and even Barack Obama were rarely seen in public without one.
In 2009 Research in Motion, the company behind the brand, was the fastest growing corporation in the world. The global economy was shot to pieces, but profits were up 84 percent in three years. But from there it was all downhill, slowly at first then a calamitous descent into oblivion that saw its share price fall from $140 (£90) to just $8 (£5) last October.
On Wednesday, BlackBerry took the first step on what it hopes will be a journey back to the big time. In a simultaneous series of launches from New York's Lower East Side to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (and one in Johannesburg), it made a grab for some Apple-style cool via a series of new phones and a revamped operating system that does more than just deliver unwelcome messages from your boss.
The latest products build in flashy graphics, better cameras, bigger screens and greater connectivity with social media, alongside new office-friendly features.
The struggling brand, which suffered tremendously when Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy range of smartphones hit the market, also attempted to reinvent itself by abandoning the Research in Motion name it has used since the 1980s but which is barely known beyond the business world. Instead, the company has been rechristened, simply, BlackBerry.
Taking a leaf out of Apple's wildly successful playbook, the company has also rebuilt its app store, BlackBerry World. It is now an iTunes-style digital mall, hawking music, movies and TV episodes as the company wagers its future on the re-launch.
Blackberry has spent months working with developers to ensure there will be 70,000 apps available from launch.
In fact, the new operating system looks more like Apple's iOS than ever before, with touch gestures to navigate between screens and the kind of smooth transitions that the late Steve Jobs used to wow the world with.
Among the new features is a reworking of the BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM, service, which now accommodates video calls. The new screen-share feature allows users to share pictures - or PowerPoint presentations - with each other instantly.
Of the two handsets unveiled yesterday, the Z10 is a touchscreen device - again not unlike the iPhone - while the Q10 comes with a more traditional physical keyboard.
The stakes for Blackberry - and new boss Thorsten Heins, who was named chief executive after a shake-up of the top team last year - couldn't be higher. As recently as three years ago it commanded a 20 percent share of the global smartphone market, but in the three months to December last year that figure had plummeted to under 4 percent, according to data from research firm Strategy Analytics. In the US, its share went from more than 40 percent to a paltry 2 percent.
“We have definitely been on a journey of transformation” said Heins, speaking in New York. On Wednesday, the shares jumped as the line-up was unveiled but then began falling sharply as news filtered out that they won't be available in the key US market until March, or thereabouts. In the UK, Phones4U will begin selling the Z10 from this morning.
But the more meaningful test will come in the long term, when market share figures emerge. Apple has been losing ground to Samsung, but BlackBerry will be hoping the future tastes a little sweeter today. - The Independent
The new BlackBerry got mixed reviews, while diehard "Crackberry" addicts cheered the new lineup.
Forums devoted to BlackBerry were abuzz after the launch of two sleek new handsets.
the touchscreen Z10 and its keyboard-equipped sibling dubbed Q10, the first phones operating on the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, generated little enthusiasm from early reviewers.
Joshua Topolsky of the blog The Verge said the new Z10 "mimics the iPhone in more than a couple of ways" and described it as "a fine, handsome phone."
He added that the device "feels solid in your hand, and is inoffensive enough in its design that it won't really shock anyone," but lacked style.
"If BlackBerry wants to spark some kind of excitement about its new hardware design, this device won't get the job done," he said.
Cnet reviewer Jessica Dolcourt said the new BlackBerry 10 platform unveiled on Wednesday "comes with many of the world-class features you'd demand" along with tools for security and business users.
But she said the new software "is riddled with perplexing omissions and behavioral inefficiencies that wear on you over time."
The new system requires many "taps and gestures" and takes time to get used to.
"There's no single, overarching failure I can point to, but rather, a growing list of missing features and aggravating issues that take their toll in the aggregate," she said.
The new system got, perhaps unsurprisingly, a positive review from Crackberry.com, a website devoted to fans of the firm, and its followers.
"Though BlackBerry 10 has one foot in the past, it reaches out in new directions to finally meet competing platforms head-on," reviewer Simon Sage wrote.
"The bottom line is that BlackBerry 10 really is the best of the old and the best of the new assembled seamlessly into an elegant, practical, and integrated package."
"Saw the launch !! cant wait to get my hands on it!" wrote Nidhi Manohar on the Crackberry.com Facebook page just after the launch of the new devices for the BlackBerry 10 platform.
"The BlackBerry Z10 is finally here and we couldn't be more excited," wrote Crackberry editor Adam Zeis on the Crackberry blog, describing the new touchscreen device.
"It's been wayyyy too long that we've had to wait this one out, but now it's here and it really was all worth it."
Some diehard BlackBerry fans expressed disappointment, either because the devices are still weeks away from launch in many countries, or because they expected something different.
Crackberry fan Steven Soutar wrote on Facebook: "At last, confirmed device but seriously - april is way too long to be waiting for this !!!!! Launch should mean launch, not delay."
On the Crackberry forum, a user identified as Logan Six wrote: "Am I the only one that was expecting something more from this presentation?
"Don't get me wrong, the screen share was a nice feature and the Alicia Keyes appointment was a surprise. But, that's it?" - AFP
* The touchscreen Z10 will be sold at an unsubsidized price of $599, but can be obtained through some carriers for $149 with a three-year contract.
At 130 millimeters (5.1 inches) in length and weighing 137 grams (4.8 ounces), it is slightly longer and heavier than the iPhone 5. The Mexican-made Z10 has a display of 4.2 inches (10.6 centimeters).
It has an eight megapixel rear camera and a front-facing one of two megapixels.
Battery life is estimated at 10 hours talking time and 13 days on standby.
Another feature is a mini-HDMI port to allow connections to a television or projector.
The new operating system will use "intuitive gesture based navigation," according to BlackBerry.
* Pricing for the Q10, the keyboard-equipped sibling, was not made available Wednesday. The keyboard will reduce the size of the screen, which will be tactile, to 3.1 inches (7.8 centimeters).
The Q10 will have the same BlackBerry 10 operating system and camera as the Z10. Details on battery life were not provided. - AFP