TORONTO, March 22 Nearly two months after its
formal unveiling, BlackBerry's new Z10 smartphone goes on sale
on Friday in the hyper-competitive U.S. market, a crucial
proving ground for the company's ambition to re-establish itself
as an industry leader.
BlackBerry , which is already selling the
new touch-screen smartphone in about 25 countries, aims to make
the Z10's new operating system the clear No. 3 platform on the
market, a realistic but still difficult challenge, analysts say.
BlackBerry once ruled the U.S. smartphone market, but it has
fallen badly in recent years as devices powered by Apple's iOS
and Google's Android operating systems dominate sales both in
North America and overseas.
The BlackBerry 10 operating system will now slug it out with
Microsoft's Windows 8 platform to secure the No. 3
But by most accounts BlackBerry has a tough fight ahead. It
not only has to win back the hearts and minds of consumers, but
the timing is hardly ideal, with the Samsung Galaxy S4, expected
to go on sale by the end of April, generating a lot of buzz.
"We believe BlackBerry's launch in the strategically
important U.S. market will run into intense competition as
Samsung, Apple, HTC and Nokia refresh their line-ups," Raymond
James analyst Steven Li said in a note to clients on Friday.
Despite the buzz around other devices, some expect the Z10
to do well in the United States.
Best Buy's head of mobile sales, Scott Anderson, said the
retailer has gauged demand for the Z10 based on sales at Best
Buy stores in Canada.
"We have fairly consistently increased the allocation of it
to our stores as it has got more and more buzz. Even though we
aren't releasing any numbers, we do put this in the realm of a
serious iconic launch," he said.
The Canadian company was forced to delay the Z10's launch in
the U.S. market because testing by telecom carriers there took
longer than expected.
"We've been working very intensely for the last two months
with the carriers and partners to ensure the retail experience
will be great for customers," BlackBerry Chief Marketing Officer
Frank Boulben said in an interview with Reuters.
The device went on sale at AT&T Inc stores across the
country on Friday, while rival Verizon Inc is set to
begin selling the device in its stores on March 28. Carriers in
the United States allowed customers to pre-order or pre-register
for the devices earlier this month.
"Relative to the population, we are on the same trajectory
as we were in Canada with respect to pre-registration, and as
you know we've had a very solid performance in Canada during the
first six weeks," Boulben said.
BlackBerry has yet to release hard numbers on initial sales
of the Z10 in major markets such as Britain and Canada, where it
went on sales soon after the introduction.
The company is expected to provide a first reading on the
Z10's popularity when it releases its quarterly results on March
28. BlackBerry's shares surged last week, however, after it said
one of its partners had placed an order for 1 million BlackBerry
10 smartphones, the largest single purchase order in the
BlackBerry shares were up 2.6 percent at $16.58 on Friday
morning on the Nasdaq, while its Toronto-listed shares were up
2.1 percent at C$16.86.
The BlackBerry Q10 model, which has a traditional physical
keyboard that's likely to appeal to professionals who are heavy
email users, is expected to go on sale next month. It won't hit
U.S. store shelves until May or June. The company also plans to
launch lower-end versions of the devices later this year.
"I really expect a great start from the Z10 in the United
States and that will be amplified by the Q10," Boulben said.