RIM unveils new OS, but no new devices

May 1, 2012: 12:32 PM ET

Getting consumers to fall in love with its new operating system could be an uphill battle, especially when those phones don't yet exist.

BlackBerry10 _keyboard

BlackBerry 10's new keyboard.

FORTUNE -- Research in Motion's new BlackBerry 10 operating system has some cool features, like a slick touch-keyboard and the ability to "flow" through applications. The problem is, there aren't any commercially available devices actually running on the long-awaited OS. And RIM has yet to share exact timing for the new smartphones.

The struggling phonemaker got a lot of "oohs" and aahs" from the audience as it showed off its upcoming BB10 platform at the annual BlackBerry World conference in Orlando, Florida on Tuesday morning. It also announced that every developer in attendance would take home a prototype device running on BlackBerry 10. But that's not enough to appease investors, who were hoping to see some new hardware, not just software, at this week's event. As a result, RIM's (RIMM) shares dropped nearly 4% Tuesday morning.

MORE: An 'ATM' for your old phone

RIM has lost favor as iPhones and devices powered by Google's (GOOG) operating system have become popular with consumers. With a growing number of CIOs now allowing employees to bring their own device to work, RIM is also losing its grip on the enterprise. And yet, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company is confident it can revive appeal among smartphone users and developers. At a kickoff event Monday evening, new CEO Thorsten Heins told Fortune that failure was "not an option" for BlackBerry 10. "With BlackBerry 10 we're taking our time to get this right," Heins said during his BlackBerry World keynote address on Tuesday. "We made the hard choice and took the hard road by deciding we would deliver our own platform."

Getting it right is crucial, but so is timing. It's been five years since Apple's (AAPL) iPhone launched and RIM still doesn't have a viable competitor on the market. The company has plenty going for it -- like nearly 80 million subscribers worldwide, valuable infrastructure and an unmatched mobile e-mail service. But it doesn't seem to know how to utilize those assets in the right way. Instead of pushing licensing agreements with other phonemakers, RIM is placing all of its bets on BlackBerry 10. And while the new operating system is promising, these days it takes a whole ecosystem (including thousands of time-sucking apps) to compete, not just a cool OS.

The company did recently launch a mobile device management solution, called Mobile Fusion (a set of IT tools that help CIOs manage the various devices now used in the workplace) is expected to launch a cloud version of the product by next year. It's a smart move for RIM, but it's not enough. And the company has plenty of competition in this space, like Silicon Valley players Good Technology and MobileIron.

MORE: Thorsten Heins: Not the right CEO for RIM

In any case, Mobile Fusion is a side note to RIM's master plan. The company is determined to regain its glory as the smartphone of choice, and it's looking to BlackBerry 10 for its salvation. That means it will be a tough road ahead for RIM. Recapturing its lost momentum with consumers and developers won't be easy. Even at its own conference, many app developers were carrying iPhones (some were hiding them in their pocket and using a BlackBerry device when on the showfloor). And the company has to decide what kind of message it wants to send. CEO Heins recently said RIM would refocus its efforts on the enterprise. And yet, on stage at BlackBerry World, RIM chose to show demos of gaming and music applications, not productivity apps.

All eyes are on RIM, its new management and BlackBerry 10. But getting consumers to fall in love (all over again) with its new phones could be an uphill battle, especially when those phones don't yet exist.

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About This Author
Michal Lev-Ram
Michal Lev-Ram
Writer, Fortune

Based in Silicon Valley, Michal Lev-Ram covers enterprise and mobile technologies for FORTUNE. Prior to joining FORTUNE, she wrote for CNNMoney, Fast Company, Popular Science and other business and technology publications. She was also a staff writer at Business 2.0 and holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University.

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