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BlackBerry's last hope: A fully redesigned OS and two smokin' new phones

The touchscreen BlackBerry Z10, introduced in New York on Jan. 30, 2013. It's one of two smartphones that BlackBerry is promoting along with itsVerizon

Research in Motion officially launched BlackBerry 10 and two shiny new smartphones — the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 — in an event in New York City on Wednesday (while also renaming itself ... to BlackBerry). The "reinvented" experience is being hailed as the company's last hope to properly challenge Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

"BlackBerry 10 is here," CEO Thorsten Heins declared moments after stepping onto a stage during the company's launch event in New York City on Wednesday. "BlackBerry 10 builds on 20 years of experience [...] and it has a user experience unlike anything you've seen before."

BlackBerry 10 — which will be available on the BlackBerry Z10 now and, by April or May, the keyboard-equipped Q10 — will supposedly offer one of the best multitasking and typing experiences on the market.

"Bringing an entirely new platform to the market [...] took careful planning, and we knew that it was risky," Heins acknowledged.

The presentation emphasized how everything just "flows" on BlackBerry 10. Users will likely spend much of their time in the BlackBerry Hub, which integrates social network notifications, BlackBerry Messages (BBM), and email. You can respond to all these notifications and messages without ever actually leaving this hub. As the Hub serves as a universal inbox for all notifications, it certainly looks appealing for those who split their time between the various forms of mobile communication.

When necessary, work and personal lives (and data) can be separated, thanks to BlackBerry Balance. This means that it is possible for users to check out of one aspect of their lives (such as on the weekends, perhaps, when work might take the backseat).

BlackBerry Messenger, one of the incredibly popular features of the operating system, has gotten a nice little revamp with support for video and voice calls as well as screensharing. Curiously enough, while the video calling feature was heavily focused on, BlackBerry did also point out that Skype is among the partners who will be offering an app on BlackBerry 10. (Angry Birds, Amazon Kindle, and other popular apps will also be joining the over 70,000 apps available for the operating system at this point.)

While there is a great deal riding on BlackBerry 10, the operating system has been getting plenty of favorable reviews already. "Reviewers like the browser speed and the intuitive keyboard on [BlackBerry's] new touchscreen," Reuters explains. "A feature called BlackBerry Balance, which keeps corporate and personal data separate, could help [BlackBerry] rebuild its traditional base of big business customers."

And as all eyes are on the BlackBerry 10 multitasking setup, notifications management and redesigned keyboard, the Associated Press' Rob Gillies points out that some are going as far as to suggest that these features could be superior to their Android and iOS counterparts. 

They will have to be — if BlackBerry hopes to reclaim a fraction of its lost market share.

Wayne Lam, senior analyst for wireless communications at analytics firm IHS, says that with "smartphones soon to reach their maximum penetration, time is running out for [BlackBerry] and other Apple/Samsung/Google competitors to stake a claim in the smartphone business."

On the other hand, people who may be growing tired of Android and iOS may be eager to try out something new.

"I have to believe that there is some level of user fatigue that plays into the longevity of some of these platforms," Kevin Burden, head of mobility at industry consulting firm Strategy Analytics, told Reuters. "RIM is probably timing it right."

Wireless industry analyst Jeff Kagan agrees. "BlackBerry is not too late. True, 92 percent of the smartphone market may have already chosen either an Apple iPhone or Google Android, but that's really because there were no really good competitors," he wrote in a note. 

"This new BlackBerry will be a strong competitor for the number three position. They won't come close to number one or two where Google and Apple are, but the market does want more choices."

The first BlackBerry 10 device, the Z10, will become available in mid-March. Pricing will vary by carrier, but Verizon has already revealed that it will offer the phone fo $200 (with a two-year service agreement). Sprint and AT&T have pointed out that they will certainly offer the device, but not announced pricing details just yet. Meanwhile, Heins says he expects the Q10 to appear "in the April timeframe."

As for the name change, Heins told the audience, "We have reinvented this company and we want to reflect this with our brand."














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Additional reporting by Reuters.