BlackBerry faces tough challenge at Z10’s US launch

TORONTO: Nearly two months after its formal unveiling, BlackBerry’s new Z10 smartphone went on sale on Friday in the hyper-competitive US 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 touchscreen smartphone in about 25 countries, aims to make its new operating system the clear No. 3 platform on the market, a realistic but still difficult challenge, analysts say.

BlackBerry once ruled the US 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 market position.

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 US 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.

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“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.

US delays

The Canadian company was forced to delay the Z10’s launch in the US 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 stores across the country on Friday, while rival Verizon 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.

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