Some of Canada's biggest wireless carriers finally got a glimpse of the new BlackBerry smartphones this week, as part of Research In Motion's worldwide effort to drum up enthusiasm for the devices.
A group of RIM executives, including CEO Thorsten Heins, met with carriers in Canada, Mexico, and some in the United States, and brought early versions of the new BlackBerrys with them.
The meetings started a process that the company hopes will lead to firm commitments from the providers as it tries to hype up the new BlackBerrys over the coming months. The phones won't be available to the public until early next year.
"The response that we got back from the executive team at some of the Canadian carriers was tremendous," Andrew MacLeod, managing director of RIM's Canadian operations, said in a media briefing near the company's headquarters in Waterloo, Ont. on Thursday.
"They were visibly positive and visibly enthusiastic."
The unveiling of the phones marks a significant step for RIM, which has struggled with numerous delays of its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, and the touchscreen and physical keyboard phones that will hit the market at the same time next year.
While the new BlackBerrys weren't the final version, the shape and size are expected to remain quite similar. The BlackBerry 10 platform is still undergoing development and tests.
RIM (TSX:RIM) is maintaining some secrecy around the devices, declining to say which carriers it met with, though MacLeod noted that Canada will be of particular focus during the initial launch.
"Obviously it's very important to us that we demonstrate leadership and strength in our home market."
The country's biggest wireless companies include Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) and Bell (TSX:BCE), who were both carriers of BlackBerry products in its early years, as well as Telus (TSX:T).
RIM plans to make further stops in Europe, Africa and Asia over the coming weeks.
McLeod said the next step is to quickly begin discussions with carriers over the product launch, a process that covers everything from the marketing of the phones to the technological support.
"We will probably start those types of dialogues very, very quickly," he added.
The BlackBerry 10 launch is considered a major challenge for the company as it faces intense competition from Apple's iPhone and smartphones using the Android operating system and possibly other rivals. Each is trying to grab a significant chunk of the market and curry favour with carriers.
On Thursday, the company made a stop in its hometown of Waterloo to meet with local developers, part of a worldwide tour that has continued throughout the summer, after earlier stops in Toronto and Montreal.
The event, which it calls the BlackBerry Jam, is designed to convince programmers that its new operating system has staying power and possibilities for innovation. In return, the company hopes to beef up the selection in its BlackBerry App World store to something that rivals Apple's app store.
RIM fell behind in app development years ago when the iPhone hit the market, and quickly built its consumer base partly on the hype of apps, or mini-programs that can cover everything from games to navigation tools.
"We're gearing up to handle not just a few apps coming in, but we're building a team to handle tens of thousands per month, ahead of that launch," said Alec Saunders, vice-president of RIM's developer relations.
RIM shares closed up two cents to $7.03 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday.
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