BUSINESS

BlackBerry World conference kicks off as company tries to rally developers

04/30/2012 03:32 EDT | Updated 06/30/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - An annual event once considered a victory lap for executives of BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion will take a notably different tone this year as the company tries to rally developers in hopes they can help rescue the smartphone maker's dwindling sales.

The BlackBerry World conference kicks off on Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. amid questions about the future of the Canadian technology firm that has been the centre of takeover rumours in recent months.

But while some have expressed hopes that the company will use the three-day event to unveil its highly anticipated next generation of BlackBerry devices, that's unlikely to happen.

"We plan to launch BlackBerry 10 in the latter half of 2012 and we don't plan to showcase it until it is ready," said RIM spokeswoman Tenille Kennedy ahead of the conference on Monday.

Financial analysts will mostly be absent from the conference, as RIM (TSX:RIM) opted to cancel the presentations and seminars that specifically catered to them. Instead, it will have a separate analyst event timed for the release of the BlackBerry 10 models later this year, it said.

This year's BlackBerry World will centre on software developers, who are expected to get their first taste of the BlackBerry 10 operating system through a prototype phone. They'll also have a chance to meet with the company's recently appointed CEO Thorsten Heins.

As of Tuesday, Heins will have been at the reins of the smartphone maker for 100 days, brought into the role as part of an urgent effort to turn around the company's flagging sales.

But Heins knows that won't happen overnight, and has launched a strategic review of the company's operations.

Since RIM's conference last year, the company has seen the resignation of co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis and the subsequent departure of Balsillie from the company entirely.

RIM has also been hurt by weak financial results, as well as the worst service outage in its history.

Sales of BlackBerry devices have dramatically worsened, and will continue in that trend for the foreseeable future, according to a report released Monday by Royal Bank analyst Mark Sue.

He anticipates the company will ship about 9.5 million units in the current quarter, a number that would put it below the five per cent market share it has maintained for years, and weaker than the consensus expectations of 10.5 million units.

RIM stopped providing its own estimates last quarter citing the volatility of the market.

Before it unveils its new line of phones later this year, the company's strategy appears to be filling the gaps. That includes working with developers to create a stronger offering of applications for its BlackBerry App World store, and developing a series of new phones expected to debut later this year.

"It clearly suggests that they acknowledge the fact that they have rushed decisions in the past and maybe they should just finally — once and for all — sit down and get their house in order," said analyst Neeraj Monga of Veritas Investment Research Corp.

"Is the market going to be excited if a surprise comes out? I don't think so."