Thorsten Heins RIM

BlackBerry maker hopes new OS will ring the changes

Research In Motion – the maker of BlackBerry mobile phones – has had an unexpected boost as it announced a rise in subscriber numbers ahead of its latest technology launch.

Shares in Canada-based Research In Motion Ltd rose by 5 per cent after the company announced at a developer event in California that its user base had grown by two million to 80 million.

In recent years RIM has lost market share to other phone manufacturers – particularly Apple and Samsung – whose devices are often seen as more modern, versatile and user-friendly. Businesses which would have once automatically bought BlackBerry phones for staff now often pick iPhones or Android-based smartphones.

However, RIM is trying to reinvent itself with a new line of smartphones that will run on the latest BlackBerry 10 – or BB10 – operating system. RIM chief executive Thorsten Heins gave a preview of the phone to developers at an event in San Jose, California, and told attendees the firm was fighting for its future.

"BlackBerry 10 is our most important launch ever," said Heins, who announced the latest subscriber numbers at the event. "There is new energy and a new fighting spirit in this company."

BB10, due to be launched in early 2013, promises a faster and smoother user interface, multitasking, Internet browsing and a better platform for apps – a factor now acknowledged as crucial for the success of any smartphone. New features called 'flow' and 'peek' simplify navigation and let users access important features without leaving an open application.

The company, which is doing all it can to attract developers onto its platform, showed off apps from Facebook to FourSquare during the San Jose presentation and promised that BB10 would have all the popular social networking apps on it. Heins also highlighted BBM's new multi-lingual text prediction, which allows users to switch between several languages in a message without having to toggle between language settings.

Heins said the company was also getting positive feedback on its new BlackBerry 10 devices from the telecoms carriers that have seen the new smartphones. He said: "We are making believers out of our partners. We are making believers out of those who had previously written BlackBerry off." He later told reporters he had had hopes that BB10 could go on to become the third-biggest smartphone platform.

It's thought that BB10 will initially be released on new touchscreen handsets with a version for phones with a physical keyboard – a product feature BlackBerry is well known for – coming later. In addition to native app development, it's thought the OS supports Adobe AIR, Android Runtime, and HTML5.

In a bid to woo back the corporate market, BB10 will also incorporate a feature called BlackBerry Balance – essentially a partition that allows users to maintain two separate, firewalled and encrypted identities on one device. The aim is to allow users to incorporate their work and personal affairs on one phone, yet still maintain tight security for both and allow instant switching between the two states.

The addition of BlackBerry subscribers surprised many analysts, who had expected RIM to begin losing subscribers in the recently ended quarter, for the first time in its history. Even as it lost ground in the crucial North American market, RIM has been able to attract buyers with its lower-end devices in emerging markets, where consumers are much more price conscious and where the much-admired BlackBerry messaging platform gives it an edge.

Paras Wadehra, an independent mobile apps developer, said the BB10 was a definite improvement and that he liked the usability of the browser and the multitasking. "They have brought the older BlackBerry into the modern world," he said, but added that the delay of the launch has been frustrating. "They are taking a step in the right direction, but they are walking slowly."

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