RIM to Give Developers Prototypes for New BlackBerry in May

Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) plans to give software developers prototypes for its new BlackBerry smartphone platform in early May, signaling RIM is a step closer to debuting a handset it’s betting on to lift sales.

As many as 2,000 of the BlackBerry 10 test models will be given out to developers at RIM’s BlackBerry Jam conference in Orlando, Florida and they are designed primarily to allow developers to build applications using the underlying operating system, Alec Saunders, RIM’s vice-president developer relations, said in a telephone interview today.

“It’s a huge step forward on our path to eventually launching BB10,” Saunders said. “It’s tangible evidence of the company making progress to finally shipping the device.”

RIM is counting on the BlackBerry 10 lineup, based on software called QNX it bought in 2010, to revive sales that have slumped in recent quarters, particularly in the U.S., its biggest and most competitive market. RIM’s market share has dropped as consumers abandoned the BlackBerry for Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPhone and touch-screen devices built on Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android software that offer a wider range of consumer apps.

Saunders said the design of the test model and the screen’s look and navigation will be very different from what eventually goes on sale to consumers.

“The experience on this device from a consumer’s perspective is not in any way indicative of what the final experience on BlackBerry 10 will be like,” he said. “We are holding that back to create the interest around that at launch time.”

Generate Buzz

RIM has said the first of the new phones will go on sale in the “latter” part of 2012, a schedule reiterated today by Victoria Berry, a company spokeswoman.

Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM (RIMM) fell 0.9 percent to $13.66 at 4 p.m. New York time. The stock fell 75 percent last year and is down 5.8 percent this year.

RIM is looking to generate buzz with developers who, like consumers, have drifted away from the BlackBerry platform because of the lack of a consistent operating system and recent losses in market share. Eighty-nine percent of developers in a January survey by Appcelerator and IDC said they were “very interested” in developing for the iPhone. For Android phones, the figure was 79 percent, while only 16 percent of developers polled were “very interested” in building apps for the BlackBerry phone.

Rekindle That Interest

The BlackBerry Jam event, which runs May 1-3 alongside the larger BlackBerry World Conference in Orlando, is designed to bring together developers and RIM’s top software executives, including Saunders, to rekindle that interest. Every BlackBerry Jam participant will get a prototype up to the event’s limit of 2,000.

“This is a tool the developer can use to get a jumpstart to build applications that will be great on a BlackBerry 10 device in the future,” Saunders said.

The BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which uses an operating system that is broadly the same as BB10, has about 10,000 apps, which should port very easily onto the new generation of smartphones, Saunders said.

“My goal is that every single PlayBook app works on BB10,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Hugo Miller in Toronto at hugomiller@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Elstrom at pelstrom@bloomberg.net

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