Research In Motion Ltd. said BlackBerry 10, the new smartphone lineup intended to revive its fortunes, is about to begin testing at more than 120 U.S. companies, including 64 members of the Fortune 500.
So-called beta testing of the new BlackBerry 10 touch-screen model and related enterprise software will start Monday, said Richard Piasentin, managing director of RIM's U.S. business. RIM is picking up costs for the trials, which are focused on the touch-screen model, a design that's less familiar to many corporate customers than the traditional Qwerty keyboard version, he said.
"We're keenly targeting the launch of our touch-screen device and we want to bring that experience to our clients," Piasentin said in an interview.
While the tests stop short of being actual orders, "these clients have agreed to implement the full solution into their infrastructure," which shows their level of commitment, he said.
RIM, based in Waterloo, Ontario, is widening its pilot projects to build enthusiasm for the phones, which debut to the public Jan. 30 and go on sale in February on multiple continents. A successful start is critical if BlackBerry 10 is to regain some of the market share it has lost in recent years to Apple Inc.'s iOS and Google Inc.'s Android software.
RIM is winning back some converts. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said last week that it will test the new software and devices, even after announcing plans in mid- October to spend $2.1 million on more than 17,000 Apple iPhones.
The trial participants represent industries such as financial services, insurance, health care and media, Piasentin said. Though all 120 companies are based in the U.S., many are global, and so the testing will be done across their international operations, Piasentin said. He declined to name any of the businesses until they have agreed to discuss the trials publicly.
One firm that has come forward is Integris Health Inc., an Oklahoma City-based health care provider that said it's looking forward to testing the BlackBerry 10 and is counting on the security the software offers.
Relying on its reputation for data security in government and business circles, RIM is also wooing customers with features such as BlackBerry Balance, which allows users to operate two versions of their device for work and personal life that separately quarantine e-mail, applications and other data.
The wave of testing comes as RIM prepares to report fiscal third-quarter results on Dec. 20. Sales probably fell 48 percent to $2.67 billion, based on the average estimate of analysts in a Bloomberg survey. Excluding some items, its loss is projected to be 35 cents a share.
That prognosis has done little to crimp a share rally in the stock as analysts upgrade the shares and adjust their price targets.
RIM shares have more than doubled since Sept. 24, just before the company's last earnings report. The stock climbed 1.3 percent to $14.04 in New York trading on Dec. 14, the most recent trading day, reaching its highest level since April. Still, the shares remain 90 percent below their closing peak of $147.55 in June 2008, when RIM commanded closer to half the smartphone market.
RIM is poised to finish 2012 with a 4.7 percent share of global smartphone platforms with Apple and Android accounting for 68 percent and 19 percent respectively, according to market research firm IDC.
Piasentin, who joined RIM in 2009 from Nortel Networks Corp., said the number of companies now testing BlackBerry 10 shows RIM is relevant in the U.S., a market where have sales have fallen more sharply than overseas.
"I don't think these companies would have agreed to participate in this program if they didn't see the value that we have to bring to their enterprises to be more successful and effective," Piasentin said.