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The last five years have been brutal for the company that makes the BlackBerry, Research In Motion. Today, with its future at stake, the company unveiled two new smartphones and said it's changing its name to BlackBerry.
NPR's Steve Henn joins us now. He's been watching BlackBerry's long fall as well as the ups and downs in the global mobile industry.
STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Hi. So I know you usually ask the questions.
HENN: But I was curious if you were ever a BlackBerry addict.
BLOCK: I confess. I did succumb to the powers of the crackberry, yes, in my day.
HENN: Yeah. And do you remember when you got rid of it?
BLOCK: Gosh, it was probably a few years ago. But I don't remember exactly.
HENN: Yeah, it kind of feels like ages ago. But, you know, as recently as 2009, BlackBerry still dominated the smartphone market. They commanded more than half of all smartphone sales. And their collapse has just been incredibly fast and enormous. This year, the company's global market share fell below 5 percent, you know.
And if you look at their stock price before the financial crisis, a single share of Research In Motion stock sold for something like $140. In September, a share sold for 5.
BLOCK: Wow. And then today, this big announcement hoping to turn those fortunes around.
HENN: Right. And this really might be the company's last best chance. So BlackBerry, as it's now known, unveiled two new phones: one with their famous keyboard and one is sort of a pure touchscreen. BlackBerry is going to have a Super Bowl ad this weekend, and executives have said the company will spend hundreds of millions of dollars marketing these new phones.
But one of the interesting things they've done is to make it really easy for Android app developers to move their games, their apps and their tools over into BlackBerry's ecosystem. So the new BlackBerry 10 phones that are launching today will have more than 70,000 apps available right now. And that had been really an Achilles' heel for BlackBerry.
BLOCK: And what's the reaction been to the relaunch?
HENN: Well, from business analysts, there was a lot of excitement building for the last few months. Since September, the company's stock price has actually almost tripled because there were indications that these phones were going to be credible competitors and BlackBerry is still a strong brand.
But it turns out these phones won't be available in the U.S. until March at the earliest. That's six weeks after BlackBerry's Super Bowl ad. And by that time, there will be other new smartphones in the market that are likely to attract a lot of consumer attention, including the latest offering by Samsung.
BLOCK: And let's talk about Samsung because they are on a tear. They passed Apple in smartphone sales, profits grew 76 percent last quarter. How has Samsung managed to thrive while BlackBerry has been struggling?
HENN: Well, I think one of the biggest reasons Samsung is succeeding is that it's so incredibly prolific. The company offers all kinds of different smartphones at different price points. You know, their phones run both Android and Microsoft Windows. Unlike Apple or, say, BlackBerry, Samsung has been willing to put down lots of different bets in the marketplace and to see what works. And the company moves very, very quickly.
BLOCK: You know, Apple, of course, has argued that one big key to Samsung's success is its willingness to copy Apple. They won that case in court. Is there something to that argument that Samsung is thriving as a fast follower?
HENN: Sure. And that's probably the nicest way to put it. But in fairness, Samsung does innovate as well. It brought the first phone to market that had a front facing camera. You know, more recently it's created the sort of a new category in phones, supersized phones. These are phones that are half tablet-half phone. People call them phablets.
HENN: Phablets could have flopped. And when they were first launched, they were widely ridiculed, but they found a niche. It turns out millions of people like them. And now, in places like Hong Kong and Singapore, which tend to be sort of on the cutting edge in the global consumer electronics market and in the smartphone market, Samsung's high-end products are more popular than the iPhone.
BLOCK: OK. NPR tech correspondent Steve Henn. Steve, thanks.
HENN: Oh, my pleasure.
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