RIM offers Blackberry 10 prototypes to developers
Mobile phone maker Research in Motion has kicked off its annual conference by handing out thousands of prototypes for its next line of smartphones.
The devices - dubbed Blackberry 10 Dev Alpha - also offer a sneak preview of RIM's new operating system.
Both the OS and the new range of handsets are seen as hugely important as RIM struggles to compete with Google's Android and Apple's iOS.
RIM hopes it will inspire developers to create much-needed apps.
The prototype bears more of a resemblance to smartphones from competitors than many of its previous handsets.
The device comes without a keyboard, a feature which had previously set RIM apart from its rivals.
It is not the first time the company has relied on an on-screen keyboard, but a previous effort - in the Torch 9850 - was criticised in some reviews for being too cramped.
The firm was keen to stress that neither the hardware nor software released was a final version.
"The Blackberry 10 Dev Alpha is not a Blackberry 10 smartphone for end users nor does it run the final Blackberry 10 software - it's been created just for our developer partners to help them prepare for the launch of Blackberry 10," RIM said on its official blog.
"It's important to get this prototype into the hands of our partners now so that you can help us deliver the type of high-quality content that will make Blackberry 10 so special," it added.Ecosystem
Nick Dillon, an analyst with research firm Ovum, thinks that it could be a case of too little too late.
"Blackberry 10 has been a long time coming. It is a smart move to release a preview but the key will be getting it out as soon as possible," he said.
Getting consumer-friendly apps made for the platform would be crucial, he added.
"These days it isn't enough to have a good product. There needs to be a whole ecosystem around that product."
Many see RIM as effectively starting from scratch with the new OS. Older handsets will not be able to run apps being created for the new platform.
According to a survey by research firm IDC, 16% of developers were "very interested" in creating apps for Blackberry products, compared to 89% for the iPhone and 79% for Android.
Blackberry World is taking place in Orlando, Florida. A separate conference just for developers is running alongside it.
Thorsten Heins, who took the chief executive job in January after his long-running predecessors Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis stepped aside, delivered the morning keynote at the event.