When research in motion CEO Thorsten Heins unveiled the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 at a New York City press event on Jan. 30, he unleashed a branding bombshell: RIM is changing its corporate name to BlackBerry (and hiring Alicia Keys to be its global creative director) as part of its last, best shot at reinvention. But it's the models themselves that reveal the troubled company's turnaround vision--as well as several essential truths about smart phones in general.
The iPhone set the standard. When Apple joined the phone game in 2007, RIM's then leaders openly mocked it. But almost everything about the company's new flagship model, the Z10, tacitly acknowledges the iPhone's pre-eminence, starting with its big display and onscreen keyboard. Even the Q10, which sports the iconic keyboard, features software that channels the iPhone's.
Consumers crave modernity. While iPhone and Android phones have evolved considerably, BlackBerrys have been hobbled by creaky software, grainy screens and other relics of an earlier era, when it was the gadget of choice for corporate use. But the Z10 and Q10 sport beefier hardware and scrap the old operating system for BlackBerry 10, an all-new platform that is polished and powerful and designed to lure new customers.
Carriers must be courted. Four years ago, RIM shipped more smart phones than Apple and Samsung combined; now its global market share is less than 5%. So it has started pitching itself as a humble, scrappy alternative to the industry's dominant handsets. And wireless companies are responding: more than 150 of them plan to sell the new phones.
BlackBerry has a long way to go. Rumors persist that BlackBerry might be acquired at a fire-sale price or sold off in pieces. And although the new phones tout 70,000 apps, they're missing Instagram, Netflix and others. But don't count BlackBerry out just yet. If people start to talk about it as an underdog--rather than deadwood--it could edge away from the brink.