RIM launches its BlackBerry 10 OS today, has a lot riding on this

This morning at 10.00 AM EST in New Yorck City, Research In Motion will finally unveil its long-anticipated BlackBerry 10 operating system and the first BlackBerrys running on the new platform.

For RIM, there’s a whole lot riding on the success of BlackBerry 10, which represents a wholly different platform than the older BlackBerry operating system. Some wireless industry analysts even say that this could kill the company if BB 10 doesn’t live up to the tremendous amount of hype that RIM has generated in the last 12 months.

RIM is betting that the more advanced software and improved hardware will convince its base of users to stick with BlackBerry, as well as lure in new users tired of other platforms. But which other platforms RIM is talking about isn’t sure.

Nevertheless, Research In Motion hasn’t been standing still these past few months. Beyond working out the kinks of BlackBerry 10, it has rallied the support of app developers, drummed up some enthusiasm from wireless carriers, and test-driven the new hardware.

Thanks to the developer test units RIM released early on, there have been several good looks at the operating system. But this will be the first time we get a full look at the hardware.

RIM is essentially starting over with a brand new platform, and is competing against another operating system in the case of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 OS.

Meanwhile, Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS tower over both platforms, literally. Android has gained a lot of new users as of late, and the trend appears to be increasing.

In other mobile news

An order issued over the weekend by the U.S. Copyright Office of the Library of Congress will make unlocking a cell phone in the United States illegal under certain conditions.

An amendment to the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) will also apply to all cell phones purchased after Jan. 26, 2013 and is aimed less at individual subscribers who buy their phones at subsidized rates, but rather at stemming what CTIA alleges is large-scale phone trafficking operations that buy large quantities of prepaid phones, unlock them, and resell them in foreign markets where wireless carriers don’t subsidize handsets.

Nevertheless, even if implemented against trafficking operations, the new rules open up the door for penalties against individuals and companies who unlock mobile devices in the U.S.

People who unlock their devices are now subject to $2,500 fines, while larger operations could be fined as much as $500,000 and imprisoned for 5 years, according to Public Knowledge.

The new rules overturn a previous ruling from June of 2010, when the Library of Congress said that cell phone users who unlock their phones are not in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

That ruling stemmed from a previous request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that asked the Librarian of Congress to renew a 2006 rule exempting cell phone unlocking so that mobile handsets can be used with other telecom carriers.

At the time, the EFF said mobile phone unlockers had been successfully sued under the DMCA even though there was no copyright infringement involved in the unlocking itself.

Sherwin Siy, of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, says there’s a lot of issues with this most recent ruling. “For one, it’s a little ridiculous to think that copyright laws are intended to prevent people from switching between different phone providers easily,” Siy wrote in a blog.

“Instead of being used to reward authors and creators (it’s not like the phone firmware is a big cash cow for anyone), it’s being used to lock customers in to their existing providers, hurting their ability to vote with their feet and switch to a competitor. Two, why limit the choice to so many consumers?,” added Siy.

In other mobile news

A new Chinese startup firm says it has successfully ported Google’s Android operating system to Windows. The application is still in beta, with the usual caveats about crashing the host system, but the interest promptly took down a Google server.

But before you get all excited, running Android apps on Windows isn’ new, it’s been around for over a year. BlueStacks already does a reasonably good job of that and locks into various retailers including Google Play and Amazon’s Appstore.

But to be fair to Google, Bluestacks’ support for the more challenging video modes is a bit sketchy, and in-app purchasing is still a work in progress, but it is a workable solution for those who want to run Android apps on a desktop – even if it doesn’t offer the Android user interface.

Given the server failure just now, we can’t tell you how stable Windows Android is, at least not today, although there’s word of encouragment, even if most of the postings are discussing the server failure rather than the quality of the software it was serving.

App developers ordinarily use an Android simulator provided by Google, but that just emulates mobile handset hardware onto which various versions of the Android can be loaded instead of running the operating system directly on Windows 7 or 8.

It’s difficult to imagine if that confers any particular advantage, although one can imagine better performance, but practicality has rarely been the driving force behind esoteric OS ports. Time will tell in the next few weeks how all of this will pan out. We’ll keep you posted.

In other mobile news

Samsung said late yesterday that its fourth quarter new profit grew 76 percent to another record high on strong sales of its Galaxy Tab smartphones and newly introduced tablets.

The South Korean company reported a profit of US $6.6 billion. It was the 5th consecutive record quarterly profit for Samsung, which reported a 19 percent increase from comparative numbers posted in 2012.

About 47.9 percent of that revenue came from its mobile communications division, particularly strong sales of its Galaxy S3 smartphone and Galaxy Note 2 ‘phablet’.

The results were slightly improved from the previous earnings guidance issued by the company 10 days ago. Samsung announced early this month that it had sold more than 100 million smartphones in the Galaxy series since its launch in May 2010, calling it the driving force behind the electronics maker’s rise to the top in the global smartphone market.

“Despite uncertainties in Europe and concerns over the U.S. fiscal cliff creating a difficult business environment, we did our best this quarter to achieve stronger earnings based on a strategic focus on differentiated and high value-added products as well as our technological competitiveness,” said company spokesperson Robert Yi.

While its sales of LED TVs also helped boost earnings, Samsung said that overall demand for home appliances declined due to what the company called the “tepid global economy.”

Samsung said that demand was weak for PC DRAMs during the quarter, while the semiconductor unit posted $8.97 billion in sales, a ten percent increase quarter over quarter.

Samsung’s memory chip business contributed $1.3 billion in operating profits, a 39 percent quarterly increase. But the company also warned that overall demand for memory chips in the first quarter would be tempered by seasonably poor sales of PCs and mobile devices.

“Heading into this year, we are expecting a slower recovery in the component business due to reduced capital expenditures, while competition in the set business will intensify further as demand slows and the mid to lower-end market,” Yi added.

In other mobile news

After the markets closed yesterday, Apple reported a very strong quarter, boosted by strong iPhone and iPad sales. However, the popularity of lower-cost versions of its mobile devices dented the company’s profits somewhat. Nevertheless, it was still a record quarter for Apple.

The company sold no less than 47.8 million of its popular iPhones during the past quarter, shattering the old record of 37 million that it set a year ago when the iPhone 4S debuted in October 2011, just a few days after the death of Steve Jobs.

These are still very strong numbers, considering that supply chain woes limited the iPhone 5′s availability throughout much of the quarter.

That helped Apple record a quarterly profit of $13.1 billion, the second highest profit ever earned by a U.S. corporation, surpassed only by Exxon Mobil’s record-setting $14.8 billion quarter from the fall of 2008, when oil prices were at an all-time high.

Nevertheless, many industry analysts are concerned that buyers’ interest in the the iPhone might be drying up somewhat. Sales estimates for the current quarter and beyond are a small pittance compared to the number of iPhones Apple was able to sell over the past three months.

Apple customers also appear eager to pay $100 less to get a year-old iPhone 4S or $200 less to get the two-year-old iPhone 4 instead of the iPhone 5, whose features are only slightly better than the older versions.

For its part, Verizon reported on Tuesday that it sold a record number of iPhones during the quarter, but the iPhone 5 made up only about 47.7 percent of its Apple smartphone sales.

As a result, Apple’s profit just barely beat its total from the same quarter a year ago. By the slimmest of margins — $14 million — Apple avoided recording its first year-over-year drop in profit in nine years, as analysts had feared it could.

The older iPhones reduced the average selling price of the device and contributed to Apple’s lower profit margin. The company’s gross margin fell to 38.6 percent, down a huge six percentage points from the same period a year ago.

And Apple shareholders didn’t like the news one bit. Shares of Apple fell by more than 11.8 percent in after-hours trading late yesterday. Apple’s sales rose 17.7 percent to $54.5 billion, just missing analysts’ forecasts of $54.7 billion.

But Apple still managed to increase its cash hoard very nicely just the same– it’s currently sitting on $137.1 billion of cash.

As for the iPad, the company said it sold 22.9 million devices, also a record. The iPad mini debuted last quarter, much to the delight of consumers waiting for a lower-priced Apple tablet.

But investors aren’t quite as sold on the iPad mini. Like the older, cheaper versions of the iPhone, the eight-inch tablet cannibalized the full-sized iPad’s sales, lowering the iPad’s average selling price by $100. That dug into Apple’s profit.

On a conference call with analysts, CEO Tim Cook was unapologetic about selling less-expensive items. He said the company’s best measure of success is whether customers love Apple products. Noting that Apple sold ten iOS devices per second last quarter, Cook said Apple hit the bull’s eye right in the center.

“You’re going to hear a lot of impressive numbers on this call, but that’s not the only way we measure success,” Cook said. “We’re unwilling to cut corners to deliver the best experience in the world.”

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