Have no fear. Research in Motion's BlackBerry OS 10 is (almost) here. The struggling Canadian company says it has reached a "critical milestone" for its new BB 10 software that could help pull the company out of its nosedive. The new software is expected for a March 2013 release and is now being tested by 50 carriers around the world.
"I'm very pleased to confirm that we have passed a critical milestone in the development of our brand new mobile computing platform, BlackBerry 10," said RIM's new CEO, Thorsten Heins in a statement Thursday. "In the last week, BlackBerry 10 achieved Lab Entry with more than 50 carriers -- a key step in our preparedness for the launch of BlackBerry 10 in the first quarter of 2013.
Apps Will Be Key
"We made this commitment during our recent results conference call and we have delivered," Heins said. "This process will continue in the coming months as more carriers around the world formally evaluate the devices and our brand new software."
Heins said he has recently spent several weeks on the road demonstrating the new OS and the reaction has been "tremendous." He stressed that RIM's team and the carriers' teams are working to develop "a wealth of applications" -- something BlackBerry has sorely lacked -- in preparation for a first quarter launch.
Investors were pleased, with a jump in share price just under 10 percent to $8.70, following the news.
RIM was once the king of mobile messaging, hailed as a pioneer of smartphones when the BlackBerry gave business people unprecedented access to email and messaging away from the office. In fact, the BlackBerry was so popular at one time that many jokingly referred to the addictive handheld device as CrackBerry.
But over recent years, RIM has seen its share of the mobile market shrink. The BlackBerry has been lagging far behind Apple's iPhone and devices that are powered by Google's Android operating system and made by multiple OEMs for a number of different carriers.
Third-quarter figures from IDC Research showed RIM with just a 4.3 percent global market share, compared to current king-of-the-hill Samsung Electronics with its 31.3 percent, and Apple with a 15 percent share. In the same quarter of 2011, RIM's market share was 9.6 percent -- showing a significant decline over the past 12 months.
Still, wireless industry analyst Neil Shah of Strategy Analytics said there is a definite opening for RIM.
"In this Android and Apple duopolistic environment, operators and consumers would welcome multiple choices to restore balance," Shah said. The BlackBerry 10, he added, could help "infuse some stimulus into RIM's product lineup and balance sheet next year to cross the chasm."
Race Against Windows
The key, he added, is a formidable apps and services ecosystem. And, in RIM's favor, Shah believes that developers should be able to easily port existing Android apps to BlackBerry 10.
At the same time, he cautions that, "RIM has its work cut out and will have to stick its neck out to compete with Microsoft for the third ecosystem spot."
Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 devices are rolling out now on an array of new devices, and perhaps will be buoyed by the publicity of the larger Windows 8 rollout for laptops and desktop PCs.
BlackBerry 10 could have what it takes to attract a new generation of BlackBerry enthusiasts. Reports suggest it will have an entirely new user interface with a homescreen similar to the Live Tiles in Windows 8, plus improvements to its popular messaging system that could be especially appealing to business users.