Research In Motion said today that it sold about 1 million of its critically important new BlackBerry 10 devices.

It surprised Wall Street by returning to profitability in the most recent quarter.

The earnings provide a first glimpse of how RIM's new touch-screen BlackBerry Z10 is selling internationally and in Canada since its debut January 31.

The 1 million Z10 phones were above the 915,000 that analysts had been expecting.

The BlackBerry, pioneered in 1999, had been the dominant smartphone for on-the-go business people and other consumers before the iPhone debuted in 2007 and showed that phones can handle much more than email and phone calls.

RIM faced numerous delays modernising its operating system with the BlackBerry 10. During that time, it had to cut more than 5,000 jobs and saw shareholder wealth decline by more than $70 billion.

In the quarter that ended March 2, RIM earned $98m, or 19 cents a share, compared with a loss of $125m, or 24 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue fell 36% to $2.7 billion, from $4.2 billion. Analysts had expected $2.82 billion.

Despite the BlackBerry 10 sales, RIM lost about 3 million subscribers to end the quarter with 76 million.

The new BlackBerry 10 phones are redesigned for the new multimedia, Internet browsing and apps experience that customers are now demanding. The Z10 has received favourable reviews since its release, but the launch in the critical US market was delayed until late this month as wireless carriers completed their testing.

RIM, which is changing is formal name to BlackBerry, said it expects to break even in the current quarter despite increasing spending on marketing by 50% compared with the previous quarter.

"To say it was a very challenging environment to deliver improved financial results could well be the understatement of the year," the company's chief executive Thorsten Heins said during a conference call with analysts.

Heins said more than half of the people buying the touch-screen Z10 were switching from rival systems. The company did not provide details or specify whether those other systems were all smartphones.

He said the Q10 will sell well among the existing BlackBerry user base. It is expected in some markets in April, but not in the US until May or June.