BlackBerry 10 lands in U.S. as AT&T begins selling Z10

BlackBerry's (NASDAQ:BBRY) Z10 smartphone, running on its new BlackBerry 10 platform, makes its debut today in the U.S. market in what could either be a renaissance for the company or a last gasp attempt to plot a comeback amid declining market share. 

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) will start selling the Z10 today for $199.99 with a two-year contract, and other carriers will soon follow. BlackBerry is counting on getting both its existing subscribers--around 80 million--to upgrade to BB10 and to also get people to switch over to BlackBerry from Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, some of whom likely left BlackBerry during the past few years.

BlackBerry has acknowledged how important the U.S. market will be to its turnaround efforts. "You got to win here to win everywhere else," BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins told the AP. "That's just the way it is. We've lost market share quite a bit, to put it mildly, and we absolutely need BlackBerry 10 to turn us around."

The Z10 will be the company's opening salvo in that effort. The device has a dual-core 1.5 GHz processor, and sports a 4.2-inch display with 1280 x 768 resolution, 8-megapixel camera capable of recording 1080p HD video, 2-megapixel front-facing camera and LTE. BlackBerry is also launching the Q10, its first BB10 device with a Qwerty keyboard, but Heins acknowledged that it won't be released in the United States for another two or three months. The delay could crimp BB10 sales among customers drawn to a device with a physical keyboard.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) will begin selling the Z10 on March 28 for $199.99 with a two-year contract. T-Mobile USA has started taking pre-orders for the Z10 for business customers for $249.99 on a two-year Classic plan; the carrier said pricing for consumers may be different. Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) has committed to selling the Q10 and will reportedly launch a touchscreen BB10 device in the second half of the year.

"There's no risk of overstating the importance of the U.S. for BlackBerry," IDC analyst Ramon Llamas told Bloomberg. "It's such an important bellwether market."

In an interview with FierceWireless, BlackBerry CMO Frank Boulben said the company will be focused on executing a "real-time" marketing campaign and that in the coming weeks wireless carriers will start incorporating BlackBerry 10 into their own marketing efforts. He said BlackBerry will strongly emphasize BlackBerry Balance, a key feature of BB10 that creates separate secure personas on the device for work and personal information. He said BlackBerry will do so because it will help companies and CIOs and because the bring-your-own-device trend is so prominent in the U.S. market (indeed, it is part of what has eroded the company's market share).

Boulben said that BlackBerry is confident in the support it will receive in terms of marketing at the retail sales level from carriers. "You need a very comprehensive training effort and I'm pleased to report we've done our most comprehensive training program ever with the U.S. carriers," he said. "You need the retail staff in stores to be genuinely excited by the product and by telling the story of that new product. And BlackBerry is a different device brand. We have a huge, loyal fanbase. Lots of people, and the retail staff is no exception, want to have BlackBerry come back."

According to Gartner, BlackBerry captured 3.5 percent of the global smartphone market in the fourth quarter, down from 8.8 percent in the year-ago period. Similarly, research firm comScore found that BlackBerry captured 6.4 percent of the U.S. market in December 2012, down from 8.4 percent in September 2012.

"Although BB10 presents a modernized new platform based on touch technology, market conditions will make it extremely difficult for BlackBerry to rise above iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8 platforms," Gartner said in a statement. "In fact, Gartner predicts that through 2016, BlackBerry will achieve less than 5 percent worldwide smartphone market share.

Still, Heins indicated he is confident about the rollout--and that it's not over yet. "There's one new product I'm really excited about, but I can't really share it," Heins told CNET. Heins said the company will have a mid-tier device later this year, and another "exciting" device likely released for the holidays.

Boulben, clarifying comments he made to FierceWireless in January, explained BlackBerry will have six BB10 devices in the market by the end of the first quarter of 2014 (the end of BlackBerry's fiscal year), instead of in calendar year 2013. He said BlackBerry will continue with its strategy of hitting a wide range of price points with BB10 devices but that it will not fragment the market or degrade the user experience on lower-end devices.

Since unveiling the platform in January, BlackBerry has rolled out BB10 to more than 25 markets. Executives have said that around one-third of customers coming to BB10 are switching from other platforms. BlackBerry 10 also now supports more than 100,000 apps, up from 70,000 at launch. However, that number includes Android apps that have been ported over to BB10; BlackBerry has not said how many apps are native. Boulben declined to provide specific figures for how many native apps there are but he said that in the last several weeks as developers have sensed momentum behind BB10 they have been writing a greater proportion of apps in native code.

BlackBerry will report quarterly earnings March 28, but according to the Wall Street Journal analysts said they will not have clear picture of how BB10 sales are going until the following quarter.

For more:
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this AP article 
- see this Bloomberg article 
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this CNET article 

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