NBC News / Reuters -
ORLANDO, Fla. — BlackBerry announced plans on Tuesday to offer its popular instant messaging system on rival devices and introduced a new mid-tier smartphone targeted at countries where its faded brand remains strong.
Tapping into its popularity outside North America, BlackBerry said the new Q5 smartphone would be available in selected markets in Europe, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
It gave no prices, but it will clearly target a younger, more price-sensitive crowd with the device, which will be available in colors including pink, red and white.
The new phone includes the tiny QWERTY keyboard that still sets BlackBerry apart from most rivals.
BlackBerry, under its old name Research In Motion, virtually invented the concept of on-your-hip email with a series of blocky devices with tiny thumb-operated keyboards.
But in recent years it has bled market share to Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s popular line of Galaxy devices powered by Google’s Android operating system, forcing it into big job cuts, and a huge rethink of its products and priorities.
“You know it hasn’t been that easy and you also know there is still a lot of work to do, but man, we have reached solid ground with this company,” Chief Executive Thorsten Heins told delegates at the BlackBerry Live conference in Orlando, Florida.
To those who ask if the company can survive the drastic changes he brought in, Heins said: “We are not only still here, we are firing on all cylinders as a company.”
In a new shift of direction, Heins said BlackBerry would offer BlackBerry Messaging, free of charge, to consumers using rival phones.
“This is such a great experience, it is just too good to keep it only to ourselves. It’s time to bring BBM to a greater audience,” he said to cheers from the audience. BBM is used for 10 billion messages a day, he said.
BlackBerry long relied on BBM to keep customers tied to its own devices, so the shift recognizes a new reality where many customers have already fled.
Heins said he is confident that BlackBerry can offer the service more broadly without losing its own customers.
BlackBerry has gambled its future on a new line of devices using its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, and Heins said the two new BB10 smartphones BlackBerry has already started selling have given it its most successful launch year.
The touchscreen Z10 device is now available in many countries, including the United States, and Heins said the keyboard Q10 phone will be launched in the United States next month.
Copyright 2013 Thomson Reuters.