Research In Motion Ltd., trying to pull out of a sales slump, moved a step closer to the debut of a new BlackBerry smartphone by releasing as many as 2,000 prototypes to developers.
The touch-screen devices, which have a 4.2-inch display and resemble a scaled-down version of the PlayBook tablet, are being distributed today to developers at RIM’s BlackBerry Jam event in Orlando, Florida. The prototypes lack the physical keyboard that has been a hallmark of most BlackBerrys.
“What we’re doing is giving them hardware they can build on, so they can feel confident that the work that they do, the behavior they see on their applications, will carry forward onto the launch hardware,” said Christopher Smith, a vice president in charge of handheld application platform and tools at Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM.
The new BlackBerry 10 lineup, due to hit stores this year, is the linchpin of RIM’s strategy to revive growth. Sales at the company tumbled 25 percent last quarter, with U.S. revenue plummeting more than 50 percent. The old BlackBerry, best-suited for checking e-mail and other business functions, had struggled to keep up with the Web capabilities and apps of Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Google Inc.’s Android devices.
The prototypes will come loaded with an early version of the BlackBerry 10 operating system. That will help developers start building apps before the official release, Smith said. Even so, the test systems won’t look exactly like the finished product, he said.
No Release Date
“It’s not going to be the same hardware platform, but it’s certainly going to be representative,” Smith said. RIM hasn’t said when the first BB10 phone will be released beyond indicating it will be in the latter part of 2012.
RIM is releasing a developer tool kit that includes software called Cascades, which will help build graphic-rich applications. It also offers support for HTML5, the broadly popular programming language.
The app developers that have already pledged to create apps for BlackBerry 10 include mobile search-engine maker Poynt Corp. and video-game company Gameloft SA.
“We’re seeing a lot of excitement and I expect it to continue,” Smith said.