Research in Motion (RIM) has begun manufacturing beta units of its two BlackBerry 10 devices, one with a touch screen the other with a keyboard, according to the Financial Times. Neither device has been named or demoed to the public, or investors.
CEO Thorsten Heins has had to delay the devices several times as CEO, as did his predecessors. At the last earnings announcement he told investors that the hardware and its proprietary OS, BB10, would be delayed to early 2013 infuriating investors and causing the company's share price to fall further.
The current BlackBerry 7 platform was released in August 2011, and the company has fallen behind in sales and hardware to Google Android rivals, such as Samsung, and Apple's iPhone series. The company has had a troubled time integrating its 2010 purchase of the QNX operating system, which so far only made it into the poorly received Playbook tablet.
Still RIMs defacto standard, the legendary BlackBerry Bold
As RIMs financial woes have gone on, it has been attached to several rumours of takeovers, from companies as diverse as Microsoft and Samsung, and it has been looking at licensing the BB10 OS to external parties. It has been written off as a dying company. None of these outcomes have come to fruition thus far.
This author was ready to dismiss BB10 as vapourware - and perhaps still is. But it is an encouraging step from the troubled company which may help it retain some kind of niche foothold in the enterprise market, most of which have moved on to consumerised devices.
Heins' confirmation to the Financial Times that the hardware is complete and the software 'nearly complete', broadly fits the production cycle necessary for a 2013 release.
The beta testing units will be used to iron out bugs and field test the devices, and will presumably be made available to developers and service providers. Developers have already been given early dev kit 'alpha' devices, which run an early version of the BB10 software, but on dummy hardware that does not represent the final product.
RIM has unveiled a bunch of features, such as BlackBerry Flow, which allows for better smartphone multi-tasking (users can 'peek' at apps behind each other - similar to Windows' Aeroglass) and an interesting next touch screen texting mechanism, as well as some pretty funky looking UI moves.
Unfortunately, unveiling these in May - with a release date of nearly a year later, means the opposition has not only moved on (as if they weren't already far enough ahead), but that any features they deem desirable will be copied in competitors operating systems.
Certain features demoed by Microsoft at its Windows Phone 8 announcement already look similar, those devices will be on market in October. Apple is also releasing an updates iOS6 with the iPhone 5 in September/October, while Android should see an update in that time too - as well as the next Samsung Galaxy S device, which is expected launch around the same time in 2013.