BlackBerry 10 launch, Thorsten Heins

As far as press events go, RIM seems to be sparing no expense with its massive BlackBerry 10 launch event in Manhattan. It’s taking place among Manhattan’s southern piers, filled with RIM’s trademark colors, and it’s jam-packed with press, analysts, and plenty of RIM employees. Heck, even the Wi-Fi works properly.

Strutting out on stage, with the most confidence I’ve seen in a RIM executive in some time, chief executive Thorsten Heins kicked off the event. “We have definitely been on a journey of transformation … not only to transform a company brand … but also a journey to transfer mobile communications into true mobile computing,” he said.

Heins noted that the company was forced to make a tough choice a few years ago, between adopting someone elses mobile platform, or building something new from the ground up. “We made the call to go it alone,” Heins said. He thanked the people who made BlackBerry 10 possible, including the people who developed the QNX operating system, and former co-CEO Jim Balsillie for nabbing plenty of carrier partnerships.

Out of nowhere, Heins dropped a bombshell: RIM will now simply be known as BlackBerry. “It is one brand, one promise,” he said. “Our customers use BlackBerry, our employees work at BlackBerry, our shareholders are owners of BlackBerry … from today on we are BlackBerry everywhere  in the world.”

blackberry 10 launch 2 q10 z10

With the audience’s excitement on high, Heins introduced the first BlackBerry 10 phones: the fully touchscreen BlackBerry Z10, and the keyboard-toating BlackBerry Q10. The Z10 sports a 4.2-inch display with a 720p resolution, while the Q10 features a 3.1-inch display along with a full keyboard. (Images of the Z10 have been floating around the web for months, so its reveal didn’t come as much of a surprise.)

Vivek Bhardwaj, BlackBerry’s head of software portfolio, joined Heins on stage to show off some of BlackBerry 10’s capabilities. He demonstrated how easy it is to move between multiple apps, a method the company calls “Flow,” as well as how the BlackBerry Hub is always just a few flicks away.

BlackBerry Messenger fans will have a lot to look forward to in the new OS. Bhardwaj showed off a new video calling feature, which looks like it may give Apple’s FaceTime some decent competition. He also demonstrated a feature that’s completely unique to BB10: Screensharing. Bhardwaj was able to view a colleague’s phone screen with just the touch of a button.

When it comes to media, BB10 has more support from partners than any of BlackBerry’s past efforts. Heins said that BlackBerry World will feature music from all the major labels, and movies from eight major studios.

RIM’s vice president of global alliances and business development, Martyn Mallick, boasted that BlackBerry 10 has 70,000 apps — more than any platform at launch. He confirmed that the company has app commitments from Skype, Amazon Kindle, and Whatsapp.

Unfortunately, BlackBerry didn’t have any specific release dates or pricing for the BB10 phones in the U.S. Heins said that the Z10 is expected to be available on the four big U.S. carriers in March, with pricing around $150 on a three year contract. The Z10 will be available in the United Kingdom tomorrow, in Canada on February 5, and in the United Arab Emirates on February 10.

Heins pulled out another bombshell towards the tail-end of the press conference: BlackBerry has brought on singer Alicia Keys as its first Global Creative Director.  “We wanted someone at the top of her field, well respected, immensely creative — someone who incorporates technology and creativity into her day to day work,” Heins said.

On stage today, Keys recounted “breaking up” with BlackBerry after being tempted away by other platforms (she wouldn’t say which). But now that there are new phones and an entirely new platform, she’s exclusive to BlackBerry once again. Keys will also take part in the BlackBerry “Keep moving project,” alongside well-known artists like direct Robert Rodriguez and author Neil Gaiman who will use BlackBerry 10 devices in their work.

After cutting off the livestream to other launch events around the world, Heins revealed that everyone at the NYC launch today will be getting a BlackBerry Z10. Check back later for some hands-on thoughts on the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10.

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