After months of speculation, Research In Motion has confirmed Jan. 30, 2013 as the launch date for its next-generation BlackBerry 10 platform. The company says it'll launch the platform itself, as well as the first two smartphones based on it, during simultaneous events scheduled around the world.
The announcement comes just over a month after Jefferies analyst Peter Misek published a research note saying the launch would likely happen in March, and confirms RIM's long-held message that the new devices would bow sometime in the first quarter.
"Thanks to our strong partnerships with global carriers and a growing ecosystem of developers, we believe our customers will have the best experience possible with BlackBerry 10," RIM's CEO Thorsten Heins said in a statement. "We are looking forward to getting BlackBerry 10 in the hands of our customers around the world."
Just in time
That delivery can't come soon enough for RIM, as its very future depends on a successful launch. The new platform had been delayed over a year as engineering teams wrestled with the challenges of bringing a clean-sheet design to life — a timeline that fuelled the belief of many investors that RIM had little hope of catching ever-accelerating market leaders like Apple and Google.
The current operating system, BlackBerry 7, traces its roots right back to the first BlackBerry devices ever released and had essentially run out of technological runway as the market transitioned away from basic messaging devices and into touch-enabled, app-focused platforms. As demand for its increasingly stale hardware continued to flatten out, Heins faced a crucial decision soon after assuming the CEO role in January: push for an early launch and risk another not-ready-for-prime-time release like last year's PlayBook tablet, or delay the release.
He opted to give the engineering teams enough time to work out the integration-related bugs, repeatedly saying he'd rather take extra time up front to work out the bugs than release a product before its time. The delay created additional financial pressure on RIM as demand for its existing products ebbed in key North American and European markets, but the company surprised many last quarter with a lower-than-expected operating loss, growth in its cash reserves, and a surprise increase in its global subscriber base to 80 million.
The turnaround begins
The launch announcement caps a fairly positive couple of weeks for the embattled RIM. The BlackBerry 10 platform was granted FIPS 140-2 certification, which clears the way for governments to adopt the new technology. Over 50 carriers also began to test the new devices for compatibility with their network. This is a crucial milestone for the company, as qualification opens the door to retail sales in multiple markets. The company added it expects testing to begin with additional carriers in the coming weeks.
The street has responded positively, as RIM's stock rose another 3 per cent Monday to hover just under $9 per share. The share price is now 40 per cent higher than its all-time intraday low of 6.18 reached in September.
RIM's ability to meet expectations surrounding the delivery of the new platform, coupled with fiscal performance that suggests it has more than enough survival time ahead of it, sets the stage for the late-January launch. While it'll likely take at least a couple of quarters before sales figures are fully digested and revenues begin to impact RIM's bottom line, the company has already rebounded significantly in barely two months.
No one can yet guarantee that the BlackBerry 10 platform will save the company and return it to its former glory. But for the first time in a long time, the fires of hope are burning brightly.
Carmi Levy is a London, Ont.-based independent technology analyst and journalist. The opinions expressed are his own. email@example.com