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(NECN: Peter Howe) A lot of products get called revolutionary – but when it was unveiled in North America in 2003, the BlackBerry truly was, rapidly adopted by hundreds of thousands of investment bankers, superlawyers, government officials and other influential movers and shakers, who found its secure portable email access so addictive many called it the "CrackBerry."
But in recent years, the BlackBerry’s been rapidly eclipsed by this generation’s hot smartphone, the iPhone. In the first quarter alone, sales plunged 57 percent from a year earlier, with BlackBerry shrinking to barely 3 percent of the world market. Along the way, BlackBerry’s stock has fallen in value by 90 percent since mid-2009.
"They’ve definitely fallen behind, and the fact that they haven’t released anything new that screams, 'I'm new! I'm exciting!' for several years as put them behind," said mobile technology expert Dan Rowinski of ReadWriteWeb.com.
Tuesday, at the BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Research in Motion unveiled the device it hopes to restore the company’s glory, with a whole new operating system called BlackBerry 10. Unlike the generations of devices known for their small physical keyboards that people work with their thumbs, this one has, like the iPhone, a touch-screen display with a QWERTY keyboard, which company officials are pledging will be as responsive as the actual keys of a classic BlackBerry.
One huge challenge for RIM: The more it’s fallen behind, the more it falls further behind. In a survey earlier this spring of mobile application developers conducted by IDC and Appcelerator, 89 percent said they were "very interested" in writing apps for the iPhone, 79 percent for the Google-backed Android phone –- but just 16 percent for BlackBerry. The iPhone now has more than 600,000 apps in its store, 10 times as many as BlackBerry, and developers will have to upgrade and rework all their existing BlackBerry applications for the new operating system.
Rowinski says BlackBerry 10 has a chance to reclaim some of RIM’s past glory, especially with several million still-loyal customers.
"BlackBerry, if they come out with a product that consumers think is fully baked and ready for the consumer market and the business market, then they have a chance on regaining market share," said Rowinski
But, he adds, given all the ground RIM has lost, the pressure is intense to try to keep BlackBerry from going the way of two-way pagers or the Sony Walkman or Palm Pilots or Nextel phones or other once-game-changing devices that got overtaken by time and cooler technology. RIM stock actually fell nearly 6 percent after the BlackBerry announcement in Florida, suggesting investors are dubious.
"It’s almost like starting from scratch for them," Rowinski said. "They’re going to have to wow a lot of people with BlackBerry 10."
With videographer David Jacobs.