Heins is bringing with him two beta versions of BlackBerry 10 smartphones. As he's previously indicated several times, one is an all-touch device similar to the iPhone, and the other includes a physical QWERTY keyboard and a touchscreen. Both devices will have near-final builds of BB10 on board, and should give the wireless network operators a good idea of what to expect once the devices are 100% complete.
One feature of the new BlackBerrys Heins was happy to share: They will have user-replaceable batteries. Though removable batteries used to be common to all cellular phones, many of today's high-end smartphones have the batteries built into the device, making them inaccessible to users, so as to meet design and battery life goals. BlackBerrys have always had removable batteries.
Heins said that there will eventually be six BB10 devices, which are to begin launching in early 2013. Three will be touch-only, and three will include keyboards. Physical QWERTY keyboards are, of course, part of why RIM's smartphones were so popular with business users.
[ Would licensing its operating system shore up RIM's fortunes? See Should RIM License Blackberry 10: Pros And Cons. ]
"We're near the finishing line," said Heins in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "The carriers want us to keep that installed base [of BlackBerry users]," in order to tip the power balance away from Apple and Google.
According to the Journal, one wireless network executive has seen the BB10 devices and is confident in their market viability. The executive called them a "marked improvement" over RIM's previous BlackBerry smartphones, though hinted that they might not be available from all carriers at the same time due to differing network technologies baked in.
Each carrier has its own testing and verification processes by which it examines phones for compatibility with its network, as well as overall quality. Considering that BlackBerry 10 is a brand new operating system, the time it takes to complete this process could take longer than normal. The executive still thinks RIM can make its first quarter 2013 launch goals, however.
The arrival of RIM's BlackBerry 10 devices has been delayed by nearly a year. They were supposed to debut in early 2012, but were eventually pushed to mid 2012, then late 2012, and finally early 2013.
If RIM's BB10 devices fail to spark sales with consumers and business users, RIM's future prospects will be dim, indeed.