RIM launches fightback with fresh designs

Research in Motion on Wednesday unveiled five new BlackBerry smartphones, one of its biggest product launches, as the Canadian company tries to claw back market share lost to Apple’s iPhone and devices running on Google’s Android system.

The handsets include two keyboardless touch screen phones, very similar in design to the iPhone. The handsets all run on a new version of the core BlackBerry operating system, which aims to make browsing the internet 40 per cent faster than previous models.

“We have really upped the game in terms of browsing,” said Patrick Spence, RIM’s global head of sales.

RIM is betting that the five new handsets will help it maintain momentum in Europe and staunch market share losses in the US market where the company faces particularly strong competition from Apple and Android.

Last month the company announced plans to cut 2,000 jobs as part of efforts to reduce costs. The company has seen its shares lose more than half their value over the past six months. They were up more than 4 per cent by midday on Wednesday at C$24.25.

Significantly RIM, which usually introduces its new products in the US and Canada first, has chosen to launch its latest handsets simultaneously around the globe, with 225 operators, indicating that it is looking to markets outside North America to drive its next growth phase.

RIM’s market share in North America fell to 12 per cent in the second quarter of this year, down from 33 per cent a year ago, according to Canalys, the market research firm. But RIM’s global shipments grew 11 per cent year on year, consolidating the company’s position as the top smartphone vendor in some markets, including the UK.

Mr Spence said the US market was an anomaly, because many mobile phone operators there offer unlimited data plans at cheap prices, leading consumers to adopt handsets like the iPhone, which use large amounts of data. BlackBerry devices have remained popular in places where mobile data are more limited or costly.

However, the company’s line-up of BlackBerry handsets and its ageing operating system has looked increasingly outdated as Apple and Google Android partners including Samsung, HTC and Motorola have rolled out sleek new touch-based smartphones with faster browsers, larger screens and extensive app stores.

RIM, which has suffered this year because of a succession of product launch delays, is clearly hoping that the new ultra-slim Bold model, the slider-style Torch 9810 and the two keyboardless Torch models will help counter this perception.

This will be RIM’s second attempt to cater to consumer appetite for devices with big touch screens, following the launch three years ago of the BlackBerry Storm, which failed to impress consumers.

Analysts said the new handsets looked competitive but RIM still needed more companies developing applications that could be downloaded to the devices.

“Given that smart devices are increasingly sold to consumers as much on a promise of what those devices can deliver in terms of applications and services as they are on their design, RIM needs to be lobbying big consumer brands hard to embrace and promote BlackBerry 7 OS as much as it can,” said Tony Cripps, analyst at Ovum, the research company.

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