BlackBerry plugs Alicia Keys to be its Creative Director; UK launch is today; Canada, Feb.; U.S. in March

At a live launch event simultaneously held in New York, Toronto, London, Paris, Dubai, Johannesburg, Jakarta and Delhi Waterloo, Ontario-based Research in Motion, Ltd. (TSE:BB; TSE:RIM) loaded its bullets into the chamber in what may be its final bid to remain an elite smartphone maker.

I. RIM is Dead, BlackBerry Lives On

CEO Thorsten Heins took the stage as the event kicked off cheering, "Innovation is at the heart of RIM.  Finally here we are!  We absolutely knew [BB10] was risky.   [It] took heartfelt and...brutal honesty, [buit] we have transformed ourselves inside and out, we have defined our vision.  We have reinvented this company and want to reflect this in our brand."

In an early surprise RIM announced that it was ditching its name (RIM) and changing its ticker symbol to unify the brand and company name under a single word -- BlackBerry.

RIM is changing its ticker symbol on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE) to "BB".  The new ticker symbol is not yet active, but will be swapped in, in coming days.

The veteran phonemaker, who was building the smartphone industry long before Apple, Inc. (AAPL) iPhones and Google Inc. (GOOG) Androids came along, today accounts for only about 1 out of every 20 smartphones sold worldwide.  But there has been tremendous interest in BlackBerry 10 (BB10), and the name change bombshell was just the start of the show.

II. Meet the Q10, Z10

RIM announced a pair of BB10 devices at the event.

The first, the Z10, is a full-touch model.  It packs a 4.2-inch screen, and 356 PPI resolution.  Available in black and white color selections, the handset features a modern stylized backplate.  

BlackBerry Z10

The second phone, the Q10 is the rumored keyboard-equipped BB10 handset.  It features a 3.1-inch screen

BlackBerry Q10

RIM -- err... BlackBerry -- also showcased features of the new OS.  The first demo involved BlackBerry Flow, BB10's answer to real-time multi-tasking.  In the demo apps were swapped in an out quickly, with smooth animations.  

A new BlackBerry Hub was also demoed, which aggregates email, Facebook, Inc. (FB), LinkedIn Corp. (LNKD), and BBM messages.  You can peek at the BB Hub using either a notification LED or a swipeable drop-down.  The Hub aggregates meetings and events from all the various platforms into a single centralized location.

Mr. Heins explains, "We have the aspiration to be the best keyboard experience period."

RIM's new keyboard features some interest features to allow for faster email/message composition.  For example there's multi-language word-prediction, which allows you to swipe words upwards to add them.  And you can swipe down to access the number pad, rather than having to click a virtual button (although a virtual button is also available).

III. New Core Apps Spice Things up for BlackBerry Brand

Given its business-heavy clientelle, perhaps the most important new feature in the QNX-based operating system is BlackBerry balanced, which allows the phone to operate in two distinct states; work mode and home mode.  The goal is to allow users to carry one device that serves both as their personal device, and their work device, while separating those roles to prevent distraction from either purpose.

In work mode you get an entirely different app store from in home mode, with a different selection of apps, which can be customized by your employer.  Work apps are noted by a little briefcase on their icon.  They have set storage limits.

BB10 Work
RIM Let's you easily switch between work and home profiles. [Image Source: AnandTech]

BlackBerry Messenger, which boasts 60 million users worldwide now supports video calling.  The look of it is similar to FaceTime (on the iPhone), Google Talk on Android, or Skype on Windows Phone.

Another interesting feature is BlackBerry Screen Share, which allows you to stream the contents of your camera and/or screen to a remote viewer either on a computer or smartphone.  Thus you can flip through presentations, do a guided tour of websites, or other interesting applications.  The Screen Share is built into the BBM Video Chat app.

Another key core app is BlackBerry Remember.  Remember allows you to save Evernote notes, emails, tasks, attachments, photos, videos, URLs to reminders, in a catch-all grab-bag to remind you of important things you need to do.

BlackBerry has beefed up the camera app a bit, too with dragable focus.  The photography app also features built in filters (similar to Instagram or the endless alternatives) and basic photo editing tools.

Another cool core app is BlackBerry Story Maker, which allows you to create video presentations, complete with titles, background music, and credits.

IV. Availability Announced; No U.S. BB10s Until March

BlackBerry is aiming for BlackBerry World, its new app store, to be a one-stop location for both apps and media, much like Apple's iTunes or Google's Play store.  The new store will feature content from "all major record labels and independents", and video content from every major television network.  

The app side of the store will feature famous titles, such as Angry Birds peppered among a catalog of 70K apps.  Multiple apps can be installed simultaneously, without the need for reboots (an annoyance in past BlackBerry operating systems).

BlackBerry World
BlackBerry World will feature media and apps.

The UK gets the Z10 first, with the device launching today.  Canadian carriers will also get their hands on the Z10 early, with a Feb. 5 launch.  The Z10 will be priced at $149 in Canada on a three-year contract.  Carriers in the United Arab Emirates, an affluent BlackBerry haven, will get it Feb. 10.

Pre-orders in the U.S. are starting now, but the physical Z10 launch won't be until March on various U.S. carriers.  Every major carrier in the U.S. (Verizon Communications Inc.'s (VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc.'s (LON:VOD) Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc. (T), Sprint Nextel Corp. (S), and T-Mobile USA) will carry a BlackBerry device this spring.  re-based "Classic" plans, as well.

Verizon Banner
AT&T glass
T-Mobile wide
Every major U.S. Carrier will carry the BB10.

It thus appears the analysts who predicted that the platform's launch would be delayed to March were partially right.

V. BB Plugs Alicia Keys as its Celebrity Endorser

Much like Intel Corp. (INTC), BlackBerry offered up an interesting token celebrity appointment at the end of its show.  It announced that pop star Alicia Keys would be its new "Global Creative Director".  She told the crowd, "[I used to be a BlackBerry user, but I left it for something that] had a little more bling."

Alecia Keys
[Image Source: CrackBerry]

Now Ms. Keys is back in the fold.

In addition to her music career, Ms. Keys will now be in charge of coordinating retailers, designers, carriers, and developers.  She will also be expected to keep BlackBerry in the loop with the entertainment industry.

But BlackBerry wasn't done with celebrity endorsers.  It also showed off its so-called "BB Keep Moving project", which featured world-famous athletes and filmmakers submitting fan-created films.

In all, the event seemed to fire on all cylinders -- it certainly was more consistent than the Windows Phone 8 launch event, which featured some highs and lows.  And it was relatively succinct.  Now all that remains to be seen is how the market reacts.

Sources: CrackBerry, AnandTech

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