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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A New BlackBerry Phone, but Maybe Too Late

OTTAWA â€" With its future as a business in doubt, BlackBerry introduced on Wednesday a new flagship model for the line of phones that were supposed to revive the company.

The new phone, the BlackBerry Z30, was released with few technical specifications. But the company did say that the device has a 5-inch touchscreen, which is slightly larger than its predecessor, the Z10, and has a bigger battery and a faster processor. The Z10 was introduced early this year, and was the first phone that used the BlackBerry 10 operating system. A new version of that operating system was also announced on Wednesday. Among other things, the new operating system allows BlackBerry Messenger instant message notifications to pop up in any app.

BlackBerry has yet to announce prices for the new phones, which will go on sale in Britain and the Middle East next week. However, cost may be a secondary factor for would-be buyers. Questions about the company’s survival may be at the top of buyers’ minds.

After a steep decline of BlackBerry’s market share, the company said last month that it was considering “strategic options,” a code phrase for a sale. Since then, no obvious buyers have emerged, at least publicly. Several analysts anticipate that the company will be broken up into several pieces. In calculating the value of BlackBerry’s assets, the most pessimistic of those analysts have declared its phone handset business to be worthless, suggesting that it may disappear from the market. After once controlling more than half of North America’s smartphone market, Gartner now estimates BlackBerry’s share at 3.4 percent.

It is not apparent that a new top of the line model will be sufficient to turn around BlackBerry 10, which has met largely with indifference from consumers in important markets like the United States. While there has been some criticism of the companies latest phones, they have generally received favorable reviews. But BlackBerry’s relatively late delivery of the new operating system means that many popular software apps, including Google Maps and Instagram, are not easily available on the devices.

Technically minded users can download apps created for Google’s popular Android operating system on the new BlackBerrys, but the process is arcane and difficult compared with using Google’s or Apple’s app stores.

The new phone, which also features stereo speakers and the ability to analyze users’ patterns and prioritize messages, appears to be more incremental than revolutionary. It is expected to go on sale in the North American market by the end of the year, timing which will put it in competition with other new handsets from several companies including two new iPhones from Apple.