Shares of Research In Motion were up almost 5 percent immediately following the kickoff of yesterday’s BlackBerry Jam developer conference, where RIM CEO Thorsten Heins said BlackBerry subscribers hit 80 million in its latest quarter, up from 78 million over the previous quarter.
That’s good news for a company that has suffered multiple network outages like the one last week that paralyzed BlackBerry users in Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. Meanwhile, RIM has experienced multiple delays of its it BlackBerry 10 product launch due to software issues, while hemorrhaging market share to its competitors.
Much to investor’s relief, Heins said during yesterday’s keynote, which was posted to the company's YouTube channel, that everything is on schedule for an early 2013 launch of its new BlackBerry 10 devices.
Heins pitched the forthcoming BlackBerry devices to the same core business audience the company has always attracted, but also stressed that the new BlackBerry features a more modern operating system that can compete in the consumer market as well. Key to the company's proposition with these new phones is that they are a good balance between work and play.
Demonstrations of the new operating system featured the BlackBerry Hub, a unified notifications and messaging system around which the underlying QNX-based platform has been designed. Users are able to access their Hub with a simple touch gesture from any screen within any app.
With the launch of BlackBerry 10 still months out, yesterday's conference was more about connecting with developers than unveiling new products. Perhaps BlackBerry 10's biggest challenge going forward will be offering a catalog of apps that can compete with the mature markets over at Google Play and Apple's App Store.
Heins said RIM has concentrated on partnerships for its renewal, which includes both content and carrier players. The company offered glimpses at dedicated Facebook and Twitter apps, while stressing that carriers like what they've seen of the new products so far.
"Carriers are also excited...They have said that it's beyond their expectations...They have said it's different and better, and they are already expressing their commitment to BlackBerry 10," Heins said.
Given today's trend towards bring-your-own-device within the enterprise, RIM can't avoid competing directly with Apple and Android. Heins is well aware of this, taking a playful shot at the iPhone 5's proprietary Lightning Connector charger, saying BlackBerry users would be able to save money by using their old chargers with the new BlackBerry 10 devices.
While yesterday's event and demonstrations revealed what could be a capable operating system, RIM leaves many unknowns in the hardware department.
Industry analyst Jeff Kagan said in emailed comments that while he likes what he's seeing, RIM is still taking much too long to bring these updates to the market, at the same time RIM continues to be eaten up by competitors.
According to ComScore, RIM ranked third in U.S. market share with 10.7 percent of the pie, followed by Microsoft (3.8 percent) and Symbian (0.9 percent).
That said, Kagan still holds out hope for RIM and the loyalty of its core customer base, noting that not everyone wants a phone loaded down with apps. "Not everyone needs Apps,” Kagan said. "I have talked with many who love their Blackberry, and don't need another Apple iPhone or Google Android, but still want something modern."