* RIM sees program as lynchpin for transition to BB10
* Program to be introduced in a phased manner
* Short positions in RIM shares on TSX fall sharply
By Euan Rocha
TORONTO, Dec 6 Research In Motion outlined a step-by-step program on Thursday to help its large base of enterprise clients transition across to its soon to be launched new BlackBerry 10 platform.
RIM is betting that the new devices, set to be launched on Jan. 30, will revive its fortunes. But the fate of the BB10 smartphones will in a large part be decided by corporations and government agencies the world over that are big users of RIM's BlackBerry devices, which have long been renowned for a strong set of security features.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based company, once a pioneer in the smartphone arena, has ceded market share to Apple Inc's iPhone and devices powered by Google's market-leading Android operating system.
RIM promises its new devices will be faster and smoother than previous smartphones, and will have a large catalog of apps that are crucial to the success of any new line of smartphones.
While RIM's low-end smartphones still enjoy strong sales in emerging economies across the globe, sales of its higher-end phones, especially in the developed world have fallen sharply.
RIM, which initially plans to launch only a high-end touchscreen and a high-end QWERTY keyboard-based device on the new platform, is hoping that these two BB10 devices will reverse this trend.
The new operating system can only be used on the new handsets.
Early adoption of BlackBerry 10 by government and corporate clients, who have been abandoning RIM's currently aging line-up of devices in droves, will go a long way in easing the concerns of both RIM's clients and investors. Many fear that a lackluster market reception to BB10 could seal RIM's fate.
RIM said the BlackBerry 10 Ready Program for its enterprise customers will be introduced in a phased approach over the next two months.
"We will be aggressively reaching out to our customers to make sure they are aware of this program," said Bryan Lee, who is senior director of enterprise at RIM. "We see this as really the lynchpin for helping our customers to transition to BB10."
The first two components of the program, which include online training and a webcast series, are already in place. The latter two portions that include a free trade-up of BlackBerry Enterprise Server licenses and services around the migration to the new platform will be available ahead of the Jan. 30 launch.
"We remain committed to our enterprise customers and want to provide them with a head start on understanding the power of BlackBerry 10 and preparing their existing environments for the new mobile computing platform," said Lee.
"The BlackBerry 10 Ready Program gives customers access to a variety of services, information, tools, and special offers to help ease their transition to BlackBerry 10 and BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10," he said.
Lee said he sees tremendous excitement and anticipation from enterprise customers who want to transition to the new platform, but he would not speculate on what percentage of the enterprise customer base would be ready to transition to the new platform come launch day.
RIM, last month, said BlackBerry Enterprise Server 10, which runs the devices on corporate networks, is in beta testing with around 20 key government agencies and corporates.
So far feedback from both carriers and developers, who have tested the new devices and platform, has been largely positive. But views among financial analysts have been widely split, while some analysts have recently upgraded their ratings and targets on RIM's share price in anticipation of BB10, others have opined that the new platform has little chance of succeeding.
TD Securities analyst Scott Penner on Wednesday raised his price target on RIM to $12 from $9.50, but cautioned that the company still faces significant hurdles ahead.
Despite lingering doubts RIM's stock, which is still more than 90 percent below an all-time high of around $148 touched in 2008, has surged over the last two months as the launch date for the new devices nears.
Shares in RIM, which fell to $6.22 in late September, closed on Wednesday at $11.94 on the Nasdaq. Its Toronto-listed shares have also jumped about 90 percent in the same period and closed at C$11.84, as investors bet that pent-up demand will result in a large number of users upgrading to BB10.
The latest TSX data also indicates that short positions in RIM shares have fallen dramatically in the last two weeks. The total short positions in RIM on the TSX fell to 15.2 million as of Nov. 30, down from 20.6 million in the prior two weeks.