RIM Hints BB10 Debuts In January: Too Late? - InformationWeek

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02:01 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman

RIM Hints BB10 Debuts In January: Too Late?

Research In Motion CEO gives away a clue that the earliest possible sale date for BlackBerry 10 devices is mid-January. Can RIM hold on that long?

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Research In Motion CEO Thorsten Heins took the stage in San Jose Tuesday to talk about BlackBerry 10, the company's next-generation smartphone platform. RIM badly needs BB10 to reach the market, as sales of its BB7 devices have flatlined. Without saying it directly, Heins gave us a good idea of just how much longer we'll have to wait for BB10's arrival.

Heins said that the first batch of BB10 devices will head to wireless network operators for carrier testing and certification next month. He didn't say how early or how late in the month, though he did separately note that developers can begin submitting their BB10 apps to RIM on October 10. What's at issue here is that carrier certification is not an overnight process. In fact, it takes months.

Typical smartphones have a development cycle between 15 and 18 months. Fully three to four months of that development cycle (12 to 16 weeks, depending) is consumed by carrier certification. This is where the carrier puts the device through its labs to test the software, test the radios, test its performance on the network, test battery life, and so on. If things aren't right, they need to be fixed. Carriers typically solve all the major problems before devices ship, though on occasion they'll let minor bugs through with plans to clean them up after launch via software updates.

From start to finish, though, three months is the shortest about of time needed by carriers to prep devices for use on their networks.

This means that the absolute earliest the first BlackBerry 10 devices might be ready for sale is approximately mid-January. That's assuming there are absolutely no foul-ups at this point, and no other delays in developing the code or finalizing either the platform itself or the new hardware developed by RIM.

Mid-January is well after the conclusion of the holiday shopping season. You can be pretty certain that Apple is going to sell gobs of iPhone 5s between now and the time BB10 debuts. Google and its Android manufacturer partners will together sell even more Android devices.

Then there's Microsoft, HTC, Samsung, and Nokia, all of which are slated to ship Windows Phone 8 by late October or early November. You can't count Microsoft and WP8 out. It is building up a massive push for the launch of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. Microsoft has already given us a peek at Windows Phone 8, which it will more fully reveal in October. The platform will be the best mobile operating system we've seen from Microsoft, and Microsoft's hardware partners are doing their best to craft attractive, feature-laden smartphones.

[ What would make phones more useful? See 6 Features I Want In Future Smartphones. ]

With such a strong push from these competitors, RIM's BB10 launch might be too little too late. Approximately 250 million cellphones will be sold in the next three months. The vast majority of them will not be BlackBerrys. After this holiday season has come and gone, just how many people will still be in the market for a BlackBerry?

RIM's financial standing isn't the strongest in the market. It needs the income generated by device sales to stay afloat. Some analysts believe that RIM may not be able to sustain itself long enough to launch BB10.

"This is the first quarter we are expecting zero subscriber growth--a loss in enterprise [customers] offset by a small gain in international consumer subs," said Kris Thompson of National Bank Financial in an interview with Toronto's The Globe and Mail. "Starting next quarter, we see the [subscriber] base in a downward spiral with BlackBerry 10 potentially slowing [the losses], but we're not holding our breath."

In fact, Canaccord Genuity analyst Mike Walkley doesn't think even BB10 will save RIM. "With increased global smartphone competition and our belief there is a very low probability the market will support RIM's new BB10 ecosystem, we believe RIM will ultimately need to sell the company or dramatically change its business model," he said in a note to clients earlier this week.

The contrasts sharply with CEO Heins' upbeat demeanor during Tuesday's keynote. He's clearly excited about BB10, and says it has the carrier support it needs to be a success.

Will anyone even be paying attention come February?

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