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RIM pushes BlackBerry 10 into the spotlight at BlackBerry Jam

Coming off an ill-timed outage that knocked out service in Europe and Africa, RIM is expected to share more details on its next-gen OS. Just don't expect to see new hardware.

BlackBerry Jam Americas 2012 banner
BlackBerry Jam Americas 2012 gets underway on Tuesday, September 25, 2012. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Research In Motion and its next-generation BlackBerry 10 operating system will get another chance to prove their worth at the company's annual developer conference, kicking off Tuesday in San Jose, Calif.

In a move that will surely disappoint analysts, shareholders, and the RIM faithful, we don't expect the company to show off any new devices at BlackBerry Jam Americas (known last year as BlackBerry Developer Conference,) but they will want to provide more details about the OS, hoping loyal and new developers recommit to BlackBerry over iOS and Android. In addition to selling developers on the brand new ecosystem, RIM will remind them that there's money to be made.

If RIM's lucky, its constituents will have short memories of an ill-timed outage that blacked out service in Europe and Africa on Friday, prompting an apology from CEO Thorsten Heins. On Thursday, the company will deliver another reminder of its embattled state, posting its fiscal second-quarter results, widely expected to be another loss amid declining revenue.

The pressure is on

The pressure has never been greater for RIM to show it can still make a product that can stand up to the blockbuster success of the iPhone 5 or the Galaxy S3. With HTC and Nokia's strong Windows Phone 8 showings and many consumers wondering which phone to buy, RIM will need to muster all the mojo it can to keep future smartphones and tablets on consumers' minds.

The company has been without a wholly new product for more than a year and its last line of BlackBerry 7 phones didn't exactly light up the market. But with sales plummeting, losses piling up, and its market share eroding in its home territories, RIM can't afford a flop with its next-generation products, the first of which is still months out.

For better or worse, the company will remain quiet this holiday season, aiming instead for a strong launch in the first quarter after the other high-profile smartphones have run their respective courses during the holidays. As a result, RIM isn't expected to show off its two new BlackBerrys, although the phones have been shown around, and seen by CNET.

RIM has spent the last several months drumming up excitement with a series of smaller events under the BlackBerry 10 Jam World Tour, designed to appeal to hardcore BlackBerry users and developers. The larger BlackBerry Jam conference for the Americas region will feature CEO Heins as a keynote speaker, and executives will take questions from the press. CNET will be there tomorrow to cover all of the action.

What we'll see

RIM should further pull back the curtain on its BlackBerry 10 operating system, revealing more of its look and feel than ever before. At BlackBerry World earlier this year, the company talked up the strength of the virtual keyboard. This time around, the company is expected to talk about some of the other key aspects, hopefully including more of its camera innovations and immersive features like social networking and communications.

RIM's browser has always been a weak spot, so we could see a speedy browser during the keynote address. We're also guaranteed to get a heavy dose of security considerations and enthusiastic encouragement for Android developers to port their apps to the new BlackBerry OS.

This time around, RIM is placing extra emphasis on its BlackBerry App World catalog, vowing to launch BlackBerry 10 OS with more apps than any other newborn OS -- that's a special jab at Microsoft's Windows Phone. RIM has had a spotty track record in this department; its rigidity and stodgier tools helped it largely miss out on the app explosion that occurred for Apple's iOS and Google's Android platform. Nowadays, consumers consider the number of apps in a platform as much as a phone's design, camera, or display size.

As such, RIM and its older BlackBerrys have been at a significant disadvantage. Over the past year and a half, the company has aggressively hammered home the point that BlackBerry is more profitable for developers than rival platforms. At BlackBerry World, Heins said he guaranteed that developers would make $10,000 in the first year, or RIM would make up the difference.

Developers are clutch

RIM over the last year has reached more than 20,000 developers through its various conferences. The company has seeded the developer community with 5,000 BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha devices and 25,000 BlackBerry PlayBooks.

Now playing: Watch this: BlackBerry 10 in action

While many believe RIM is stuck in a death spiral, Heins believes the company's existing customers base still gives it a chance. The company has more than 80 million customers, although much of its growth is occurring in lower end emerging markets.

RIM also counts among its loyal customers large businesses and government agencies that value security over features.

In more developed countries such as the U.S. or its home country of Canada, however, individuals and corporations alike are eschewing BlackBerrys and their once-legendary security for iPhones and Android smartphones.

For example, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently said the new company smartphone plan includes Apple, HTC, Nokia, and Samsung phones, but snubs RIM, not so long ago the obvious corporate choice.

BlackBerry Jam is a necessary step toward building excitement for BlackBerry 10, but the next few months will be even more critical. Everything is riding on a hot start for RIM, something it hasn't experienced in a long tim -- and even then, RIM's ultimate success will be up in the air.