With BlackBerry 10, struggling phone maker hopes for a comeback

(CNN) -- The makers of BlackBerry devices, Research in Motion, are gearing up for a fight they can't afford to lose.

On January 30 at a press event in New York, the company is expected to finally unveil its new smartphone operating system, BlackBerry 10, and a pair of new handsets -- one with a physical keyboard and another that's all touchscreen.

But are there enough BlackBerry fans left out there to embrace a new kind of smartphone from a company that has fallen woefully behind the competition, both in sales and innovation? Many BlackBerry users in the United States are stuck with the device because it is issued by their employer, which has led to a cumbersome trend of people carrying two devices: a work phone and a personal one.

To succeed, RIM must persuade diehard BlackBerry fans to upgrade to something radically new. BlackBerry also must woo corporations by emphasizing security and support features while distinguishing itself from the leading smartphone platforms, iOS and Android, and the other new kid, Windows Phone 8.

"They need to get everything absolutely right, from the design of the hardware to the UI (user interface) of the hardware to the number of applications to the price of the applications," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Gartner.

Unlike Microsoft, which cut its teeth on Windows Phone 7 and sunk huge amounts of money into polishing and marketing Windows Phone 8, the troubled RIM needs its new platform to be a success the first time out.

It has been a rough couple of years for the Canadian company. Unable to keep pace with the rich app store selections and slick design of iOS and Android devices, RIM has hemorrhaged users in the United States. The company's public image has suffered, as chunky BlackBerry phones became a popular target for mocking by the press and iPhone owners in coffee shops, bars and meeting rooms. A widespread network outage in 2011 didn't help.

The financial impact was brutal. Over the course of a year, RIM's sales volume dropped 51%, according to the company's third quarter 2012 earnings, and in July, RIM announced plans to cut 5,000 jobs.

Part of this plunge could be spun as customers waiting for the next generation of BlackBerry devices. The BlackBerry 10 platform was announced in May, along with plans to roll out products by the end of 2012. But the date was pushed back, and the company missed out on the lucrative holiday season and corporations' IT planning for 2013.

"The delay has not helped them. Corporations that have decided to move away from RIM already made that call for 2013." said Milanesi, who believes corporations will be the key to RIM's survival.


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