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"I liked the navigation," said Chris Hazelton, an analyst with The 451 Group, who said he'd used one of the first handsets that RIM will unveil next week with partner Verizon Wireless. "It's different. It's a good way to manage multiple applications and I didn't notice any lag. I was very impressed with the performance of the device."
The messaging and work mode is playing to one of RIM's strengths: it's long relationship with corporate IT departments. Those IT departments have to deploy RIM's BlackBerry Enterprise Server to run the corporate BlackBerry platform and, for the first time, the software also supports management of devices running Apple's iOS and Google's Android.
"I'm still not sold on this strategy," said Hazleton. "It's not like RIM had a choice in not supporting iOS and Android, but that opens the door to supporting other devices in BlackBerry shops."
Enterprise IT departments are also fielding advances from Microsoft these days, which just launched its Windows Phone 8 OS. Microsoft, like RIM, has deep roots in enterprise IT work and with the BlackBerry 10 launch the two companies will battling for third place in the smartphone market.
"That's a hard race to handicap," said Schadler. "Unless you look at the size of the companies, the amount of money they can spend and the amount of money they can stand to lose. And that's when it gets tough for RIM."
Stockholders appear bullish on the chances of BlackBerry 10. The company's share price has more than doubled since mid-September, when it reversed a slide that had been going on for months, but at around US$17, it still remains well below the high of June 2008 when it was trading above $140.
For the coming year, IDC predicts RIM's market share will fall slightly to 4.4 percent of the smartphone market. Phone shipments will rise from just over 40 million in 2013 to just over 58 million in 2016, said IDC. But that's slightly behind overall smartphone market growth, so RIM's market share is forecast to slide further to 4.2 percent in 2016, the research company said.
(Nick Barber in Boston contributed to this report.)