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BlackBerry shares plummet following BB10 launch

New handsets fail to convince nervous Wall Street

BlackBerry shares plummet following BB10 launch
The pricing strategy for the BB10 handsets forces BlackBerry to do battle with Apple and Google in the all-but saturated premium market.

Research in Motion (RIM), the maker of the BlackBerry device, saw its shares tumble 12% on Wednesday following the high-profile launch of the new BlackBerry 10 smartphone.

During a simultaneous global launch of the new BlackBerry 10 device, which included an event at the Armani Hotel in Dubai's Burj Khalifa, CEO Thorsten Heins announced the Canadian phone maker was abandoning its RIM moniker and rebranding itself as simply BlackBerry.

"We have transformed ourselves inside and out, and we have defined our vision... which makes today the perfect time for another big announcement I want to share. From this point forward, RIM becomes BlackBerry," Heins said in a video link from New York.

The unveiling however was marred by a delay in the US launch until March and confusion in Dubai over whether the UAE release will include the new BlackBerry Messenger Voice (BBMV) and Skype features when it is launched on February 10.

BBMV allows customers to make free phone calls over Wi-Fi. However, a report in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday said BlackBerry was in talks with UAE operators du and Etisalat over concerns BBMV will impact both telcos' revenue streams.

Despite the fast-approaching release date, a BlackBerry executive was unable to confirm whether the features would be included from day one.

"We work really closely with our carrier partners to bring the full BlackBerry experience to customers wherever they are, so we will have that service available as quickly as we can," Bob Bose, BlackBerry's regional managing director in the Middle East and Africa, told Arabian Business on the sidelines of the Dubai launch. "The issue is we are still in negotiations so I am reluctant [to comment]," he added.

BlackBerry also confirmed it was in talks with the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), which has apparently encouraged operators to allow the service to be activated. "We would not want the UAE to be seen as a restrictive case," an unnamed senior TRA official told the WSJ.

Skype, a service which allows users to make phone calls via the internet, is also partially blocked by operators in the UAE. Despite being unveiled as part of the new device, BlackBerry executives were also vague as to whether this will be available on the UAE version of the BlackBerry 10.

"When the application Skype is released [and unblocked by the TRA]... it will be available in due course," Roger Enright, regional leader of product management at BlackBerry, told Arabian Business.

BlackBerry reported a narrower-than-expected financial loss posted in September 2012. A one-time smartphone pioneer, the company has failed to keep pace with rivals such as Apple and Samsung, and its stock price has tumbled by about 70% over the past year while its market share has shriveled.

In July last year, BlackBerry services in the UAE faced severe disruption, with users for a time losing access to messaging and email as its network grappled with technical challenges. In October 2011, users in the Middle East, Europe, India and Africa were hit by three days of downtime in another case of technical failure.

Shipments of BlackBerry smartphones were 7.4m in the third quarter, outpacing Wall Street's expectation of about 6.9m.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company reported a net loss of US$235m compared with a profit of US$329m in the same period a year earlier.

Ahead of the UAE launch on February 10, BlackBerry said in a statement "pricing will vary by carrier partner, but unsubsidised it will retail for AED 2,599."

The new BlackBerry 10 phones will compete with Apple's iPhone and devices using Google's Android technology, both of which have soared above the BlackBerry in a competitive market.

The new devices boast fast browsers, new features, smart cameras and, unlike previous BlackBerry models, enter the market primed with a large app library, including services such as the popular game Angry Birds.

The new device comes in two different keyboard models, one with the small QWERTY keyboard that RIM made into its trademark, and one a pure touch-screen device that looks much like those its competitors already produce.

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