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Can RIM claw back from the edge with BlackBerry 10?

It's crunch time for the beleaguered Research In Motion, but will BlackBerry10 have what it takes to make a brave new start?

Commentary It's crunch time for the beleaguered Research In Motion (RIM), but will BlackBerry10 have what it takes to make a brave new start?

RIM CEO Thorsten Heins. (Credit: Lynn La/CNET)

It used to be nicknamed the "CrackBerry".

In all of the buzz as we lead up to tomorrow's New York-based reveal of the BlackBerry 10, it's important to remember that RIM once had an almost cult-like following when it came to the BlackBerry. They were raved about, feted as the must-have business device. They were in every suit pocket and present on the table cloth of every fine-dining lunch.

They were, in a nutshell, cool.

In fact, as recently as 2008, BlackBerry accounted for 46 per cent of all phone sales in the United States. Last year, it was 2 per cent. Worldwide, it's slightly less dire for the Canadian company: according to IDC, BlackBerry accounted for 6 per cent of all phones sales in 2012, putting it in the top five for the year.

But the humble BlackBerry has been, well, humbled in more recent years. Sales declined. The PlayBook was not the resounding success it needed to be. Its business applications were mimicked, and even superseded by touchscreen smartphones. The cool went away.

According to RIM, BlackBerry 10 will change all that. The new operating system will change the perception of the BlackBerry being old, staid, and hackneyed — a perception played on by rival Samsung in recent advertising.

Here in Australia, BlackBerry faces an uphill battle, with additional strikes against the company after the failed "Wake Up" campaign — a "viral awareness" campaign so reviled that Samsung felt obligated to make a formal statement distancing itself from it. When the dust settled, the argy-bargy died and RIM didn't even have a product to show off other than the BlackBerry Bold — well, it wasn't pretty.

So what will happen this time? Tomorrow's event should answer a few questions about BB10 and, hopefully, some of the hardware as well.

We definitely expect much to be made of the BlackBerry Hub, a unified message area collating emails, texts, social media updates, et al into one spot. The navigation system Flow, which allows for easier multitasking between apps, will also get wheeled out at the presentation. As will the improved virtual keyboard, as RIM hopes not to remind anyone of the BlackBerry Storm and its "clickscreen" horror.

We also hope to get more info on the two BB10 handset flagships — the X10 and the Z10, as the named are expected to be. The X10 should be the hardware keyboard version, the Z10 a touchscreen. If RIM wants to truly create some buzz, we'd hope for a full spec rundown and even some pricing and availability to be mentioned, even if it's just for the US. The rumour mill suggests a February availability for at least one of the phones.

Oh, and apps. RIM is already raving about the BB10 app ecosystem with a reputed 70,000 apps ready to roll on launch day. A smartphone will live or die on its apps environment (just ask the Nokia N9 and poor old MeeGo), and while 70,000 is a solid launch number, RIM needs to have some very solid plans in place to encourage devs to keep creating for the platform. Constantly.

It's a tough run for RIM. To get BlackBerry back on track, it needs the right combination of OS, hardware and app marketplace — and it needs it pretty soon, not later in the year. BlackBerry 10 has undergone too many delays already for this to be just another "sneak peek". If RIM is ever going to recapture the excitement of the consumer — and not just remain the perpetual darling of the government fleet phone purchase — it has one chance to get it right, and get it right now.

We'll see if they can make that happen in New York tomorrow. You can follow along from 1.45am AEST tomorrow on our US colleagues' live blog of the event.