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BlackBerry Z10 on sale Tuesday

Research In Motion says it’s changing its corporate name to BlackBerry, the moniker of its globally recognized smartphones.

BlackBerry launches its BB10 in Toronto
BlackBerry launches its BB10 in Toronto

The company held a splashy event in Manhattan on Wednesday morning to usher in the new BlackBerry 10 devices, which were originally due for release last year.

WATCH Wednesday’s BB10 launch

The new BlackBerry is widely seen as a make-or-break product for the tech pioneer.

Chief executive, Thorsten Heins took to the stage to unveil the company’s new line of BlackBerry devices _ the BlackBerry Z10 and the BlackBerry Q10.

Thorsten Heins presents new BB10
Thorsten Heins presents new BB10

Both are powered by the new BB10 operating system.

The Z10 will go on sale in Canada on February 5th.

Heins says the past year at the helm of the company has been his most challenging professional experience to date. But he adds it’s been exhilarating as well.

AUDIO – Joe Pavia’s exclusive interview with RIM CEO Thorsten Heins

Heins tells 570 News his company has a lot of innovation power and great employees.

“It’s chin down, get BB10 out and in mobile computing, go where the puck is!”

Heins adds the corporate world is already latching on to the BB10 models. “This new platform really allows you to separate your personal life from your corporate life.”

While the name change won’t be made official on the stock exchanges until Feb. 4th, the company’s executives were quick to switch.

Among the features being touted at Wednesday’s event:

  • As you type, the operating system predicts what word you want and you can swipe to have it auto-completed.
  • BlackBerry Hub acts as one place for all incoming messages, email, BBM, social media.
  • BlackBerry Balance then allows one phone to operate as both a business and personal device entirely separate from each other.
  • Apps have been divided into two sections by tabs at the top of the screen, labelled Personal and Work.

The BlackBerry maker’s shares closed down 11.8 per cent, or $1.85, to $13.86 on the Toronto Stock Exchange where about 22.7 million of its shares were traded on Wednesday.

Telecom analyst Troy Crandall said a major reason for the stock’s drop was the staggered launch of the phone, which has left potential U.S. consumers waiting until March.

“That kind of puts RIM into a more congested period for the launch where there’s potential for Apple to make an announcement about iOS 7,” he said, referring to a refreshed operating system for the iPhone.

More than 25 per cent of the BlackBerry maker’s shares are still held by short sellers, who are betting against the success of BB10, said Crandall, of Montreal-based investment firm MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier.

Heins walked a careful path of both acknowledging RIM’s origins while insisting that things had changed. He paid a brief tribute to Lazaridis and Balsillie’s work to build the BlackBerry brand, but then also signalled the future.

Heins took pages from the past successes of RIM. At the New York and Toronto events, everyone who attended received a free BlackBerry Z10, the touchscreen phone, to take home and play with. Years earlier, Balsillie did the same with the then unknown BlackBerry device at high-profile technology conferences.

Heins also acknowledged that while the new BlackBerry models will start with a touchscreen version, the company is still well aware that many of its customers prefer the more traditional keypad model.

“We heard you loud and clear,” Heins told the audience. “We built this for those people who said they just had to have the physical keyboard typing experience.”

The BlackBerry Z10’s price will vary by carrier, but the company said it will sell for around $149.99 on a three-year contract. Pricing for the physical keyboard model was not released.

Rogers, Bell, Telus, Virgin, SaskTel, Koodo, and Fido are among the carrier partners in Canada, while Walmart, Future Shop, Best Buy, and The Source are some of the retail partners.

Executives also highlighted the new apps available on the phones, including Skype, Kindle and Angry Birds. Notably absent from the initial list were top-downloaded apps like Netflix and Instagram, though the company assured that it would aggressively pursue partnerships with other companies to carry their apps.

In one of the more unusual announcements from the event, the company said that singer Alicia Keys would take the decidedly corporate title of global creative director and act as a brand champion at various events, including the Super Bowl.

Heins noted that Keys brings a “vast network of relationships in the entertainment, social media and business communities,” to the company. Her role will include creating music videos with the new BlackBerry phone at each stop on her upcoming tour, which kicks off in March.

Neither would say how long the singer would operate as a representative of the company, though Keys said it would be “for as long as we are being creative together, and that will be a long time.”

The BlackBerry has dramatically lost marketshare in recent years after a series of blunders.

Several network outages left customers without the use of the smartphones they had come to rely on, while the BlackBerry’s hardware hadn’t received a significant upgrade in years.

In the coming weeks, BlackBerry will launch an advertising blitz to promote the phones, including aggressive social media campaigning, which includes plugs from celebrities on their Twitter accounts, and a 30-second advertisement on the Super Bowl, the most watched television program of the year.

The rebranded company will also come with new ticker symbols. On the Toronto Stock Exchange, BlackBerry will trade under the symbol BB while on the Nasdaq the ticker will be BBRY.