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Inside Blackberry World: 'We Have an Uphill Battle'

Blackberry 10
Source: Research In Motion
Blackberry 10

ORLANDO, FL—Funeral procession or march back to greatness?

That's the fundamental question upon entering Research In Motion's "BlackBerry World" gathering of some 5,000 app developers and partners.

The first impression was surprising: There are a LOT of people who still believe in the BlackBerry and Research in Motion. Maybe all the people in the world who feel that way are the only ones here.

"The future with BlackBerry, they have so many opportunities," said Steve Rollins of Martha Stewart Omnimedia. "We're excited about seeing them take their core strengths and push that more into the consumer market."

The first thought is whether comments like this are delusional. The stock has been crushed, and the Blackberry is hemorrhaging market share in the U.S.. According to some metrics, it's now in the single digits. Just two years ago, it was nearly half the domestic smartphone market.

However, after walking the floor and talking to partners, vendors and app developers, it's clear that most smartphone-related businesses want Research in Motion to turn things around.

The more competition, the more partnership possibilities...the more money to be made.

If Apple and Samsung dominate, opportunities within the marketplace will be more limited.

CEO Thorsten Heins doesn't side-step the problems.

"In the U.S., we have an uphill battle," he admitted when asked if it will be too late to stop the market-share bleeding when BlackBerry 10 comes to market late in 2012.

But in the same breath, he shows a little of the fire that has converted some skeptics in his short tenure as CEO.

"With BlackBerry 10, we will be a strong contender again and expect to gain back market share."

If he's right, Research in Motion can stay relevant. If he's wrong, RIMM might be little more than patents and intellectual property.

As for the whole "keyboard" issue. CEO Thorsten Heins confirmed to CNBC that there WILL be physical keyboards in the BlackBerry 10 portfolio.

"We want typing experience on BlackBerry to be best in the world," Heins said. "We know what our strengths are. We won't lose focus on physical keypads."

However, sources say, the very first BlackBerry 10s might solely have the virtual touch-screen keyboard.

It will be some time before that's known, but there is no doubt that "Blackberry World" has returned SOME confidence to BlackBerry eco-system.

"It's been really refreshing," said Brian Ehrlich from MobileBits. "There's sort of a vibrancy, like 'hey, we can do this.'

"So, I'll say refreshed and relieved to walk in here and feel that."

email: tech@cnbc.com

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