By Stuart Weinberg
Research In Motion will host its annual BlackBerry World conference next week and Wall Street is hoping the company will show off some new BlackBerry smartphones.
The conference kicks off Monday in Orlando and runs through Thursday. At last year's show, the company introduced BlackBerry 6.0, the latest version of the BlackBerry operating system. This year, the company is expected to unveil BlackBerry 6.1, as well as at least one new BlackBerry smartphone.
RIM may also provide an update on sales of its recently released PlayBook tablet, Mike Abramsky, an analyst at RBC Capital , wrote in a research note Wednesday. Abramsky said his checks show that, despite tepid reviews, RIM may have sold 100,000 PlayBooks in its initial week of availability. That's more than Motorla's Xoom and Samsung's Galaxy, he said.
The Canadian company, which declined to comment ahead of the event, has lost ground in the U.S. market to Apple Inc.'s iPhone and phones running Google's Android software. Much of RIM's growth last quarter came from cheaper BlackBerry models sold in emerging markets, and investors are waiting to hear more details about the company's product roadmap.
RIM has already indicated that BlackBerry 6.1-based phones are on tap for fiscal 2012, which ends next February. During its fourth-quarter earnings call in March, the company's co-chief executive Jim Balsillie said 6.1-based BlackBerrys will include full Qwerty keyboards and touchscreens and offer significant enhancements on performance and fidelity over 6.0-based devices. Demand and Interest in 6.1 phones "is, like, amazing," Balsillie said on the call.
RBC's Abramsky said RIM could unveil a new touchscreen version of its BlackBerry Bold that runs on the new operating system. Commercial launch would come in June or July, he said. "While new products and software may face mixed reviews (when compared to Apple), we believe once launched, they may exhibit uptake above low expectations," he said.
Shaw Wu, an analyst at brokerage Sterne Agee, said in a note Wednesday that RIM could introduce as many as three new BlackBerry models next week: a touchscreen Bold, a beefed-up BlackBerry Torch that includes a faster processor, and a third touchscreen device without a slideout keyboard. The latter device would effectively replace the Blackberry Storm, he said. The Storm, released in 2008, was RIM's first crack at a touchscreen smartphone and never did resonate with consumers and businesses.
RIM has indicated that in early 2012 it will introduce new BlackBerrys based on the QNX operating system, which powers the PlayBook. The company isn't expected to unveil any prototypes of these devices at BlackBerry World, analysts said.