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RIM chief chagrined by mid-March US launch date for new BlackBerry

TORONTO--The chief executive of Research In Motion said he's disappointed the new BlackBerry won't be released in the United States until mid-March, but he said early data suggests sales in the UK are above expectations.

Thorsten Heins said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press that he was disappointed in the mid-March U.S. release date. But he said the U.S. and its phone carriers have a rigid testing system.

“We need to respect that. Am I a bit disappointed? Yeah, I would be lying saying no. But it is what it is and we're working with all our carrier partners to speed it up as much as we can,” Heins said in an interview at the Ritz Carlton in Toronto.

RIM unveiled new BlackBerrys last week after excruciating delays allowed Apple, Samsung and others to build commanding leads in the industry. The stock fell 12 percent after Wednesday's kickoff, despite positive reviews about the new BlackBerry 10 operating system. There's concern the phone isn't coming out sooner after RIM announced a March U.S. release date last week.

Heins told the AP that it will be mid-March.

The first device in the new crop of the much-delayed revamped BlackBerrys will be the touch screen Z10. Black and white versions were released in the UK last Thursday and will be released in Canada on Tuesday.

Heins said a substantial number of UK users are moving from other platforms to BlackBerry and said that's an encouraging sign because they first targeted longtime BlackBerry users.

Shares of RIM closed up 15 percent Monday on initial reports of strong UK sales and after an analyst upgraded the stock.

Heins said they have to retake market share in the U.S. for BlackBerry to be successful. The U.S. has been one market in which RIM has been particularly hurting, even as the company is doing well in many places overseas. According to research firm IDC, shipments of BlackBerry phones plummeted from 46 percent of the U.S. market in 2008 to 2 percent in 2012. The iPhone and Android now dominate.

Heins, who one year ago replaced longtime executives who had presided over BlackBerry's fall, said he's confident BlackBerry can become the third ecosystem behind Apple and phones running Google's Android operating system.

The new BlackBerrys are a make-or-break product lineup after the pioneering brand lost its cachet not long after Apple's 2007 release of the iPhone, which reset expectations for what a smartphone should do.

RIM promised a new system to catch up, using technology it got through its 2010 purchase of QNX Software Systems. But it has taken more than two years to unveil new phones that are redesigned for the new multimedia, Internet browsing and apps experience that customers are now demanding. RIM initially said the new BlackBerry with the revamped software would come by early 2012, but then the company changed that to late 2012. A few months later, that date was pushed back further, to early 2013, missing the lucrative holiday season. The holdup helped wipe out more than US$70 billion in shareholder wealth and 5,000 jobs.

As RIM previously disclosed, the first phone will have only a touch-screen keyboard, like Apple Inc.'s trend-setting iPhone and most phones running Android, including Samsung Electronic Co.'s popular Galaxy line.

The Q10 will follow and will have a physical keyboard, a feature that has kept BlackBerry users loyal over the years because it makes typing easier. RIM said last week the Q10 will start going on sale on some global carriers in April, but didn't say when U.S. carriers will have it.

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