Jan 29, 2013 / 3:36 pm
After several technical blunders, two unexpected delays and one major shakeup in its leadership, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion is about to raise the curtain for its new smartphone devices in hopes that consumers share the excitement.
The unveiling of the phones and operating system on Wednesday marks the start of an advertising blitz that will stretch to social media, the Super Bowl and beyond as RIM tries to regain the cool factor that was once firmly in its grasp.
If all goes according to plan, the event will also mark the end of a troublesome 12 months that has seen RIM try to stay afloat while its future was constantly in question by outsiders, and its stock price tumbled to the lowest level in about a decade.
While the first hurdles to overcome on Wednesday are the opinions of tech analysts and investor reaction, the true measure of success, actual sales of the phones, is still weeks away.
As a crowd of thousands gathers Wednesday at Pier 36, a massive entertainment venue on the shores of Manhattan, chief executive Thorsten Heins will step onto the stage holding the BlackBerry that has been at once considered the company's last hope, but also its biggest hurdle.
Just over a year ago, when Heins took over the top spot at RIM, the smartphone maker was in a state of flux as its marketshare tumbled in North America against growing competition from Apple's iPhone and various devices on the Android operating system.
Analysts had widely blamed the lack of leadership from former co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis as the reasons that RIM failed to innovate its way out of trouble, but they also said that Heins had much to prove in hardly any time.
The company was in a bubble, insisting that it hadn't lost its footing in the smartphone industry, even though from the outside their downfall was indisputable.
But as the dust settled from Balsillie's exit in March 2012, Heins began to face the realities of RIM's problems and launched a major overhaul of its middle management and deep cuts to its operations.
While Heins preferred to call it removing a "little fat on the hips," the changes at RIM were a far more strategic and complex surgery.
The company closed some of its manufacturing facilities and announced plans to lay off about 5,000 workers, as it aimed to save $1 billion across RIM's operations by February 2013. Heins reached that savings goal, and he did it three months ahead of schedule.
"He is probably one of the least dogmatic people at RIM," said Carl Howe, vice-president of consumer research at Yankee Group.
"I think he learned from his predecessors."
Despite all of the changes, Heins was still up against the fact that development of the BlackBerry 10 operating system was woefully behind schedule. Already delayed from a launch in 2011, the CEO was forced in June to further push the debut into 2013, missing crucial sales periods like the back-to-school and Christmas holiday shopping seasons.
While analysts hated the idea of another delay, it also bought the company some extra time to tweak the software to capitalize on the weaknesses of competitors' smartphones.
If the stock price is any sign, RIM's investors are at least more confident this month then they've been in a long time. As of Monday's closing price, RIM's shares have risen 167 per cent from its lowest level in about a decade, reached in September, on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
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