The new BlackBerry is lacing up its racing shoes and getting ready for the big event: the U.S. market. New reports indicate that the company's touchscreen Z10 model will go on sale in the U.S. at AT&T stores on March 22.
The sale date, which has not yet been confirmed by the Canadian phone maker or AT&T, was reported Friday by Bloomberg Businessweek, which cited "two people familiar with the plan." About 20 percent of the company's revenue comes from the U.S. By the end of this week, the Z10 will have gone on sale in nearly two dozen other countries, but American carriers have longer test periods than those elsewhere.
Other reports indicate AT&T could launch the Z10 as early as March 15. While that would move up the device's entry into the U.S. market, it would come on the heels of the March 14 unveiling of Samsung's new Galaxy S IV smartphone, the successor to its hit S III. Some BlackBerry watchers suggest that a U.S. sales date so close to Samsung's event means that the device is essentially being dumped, and could show that BlackBerry -- the new name for the company formerly known as Research In Motion, as well the phone brand -- is in a weak bargaining position.
Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile
Verizon Wireless said in February that it would offer the Z10 at the end of this month, and T-Mobile said it planned to offer the device in mid-March. Sprint Nextel recently announced that it would not be carrying the Z10, but would have the Q10 on sale later in 2013. The Q10 offers a physical keyboard, and has been compared to the more traditional BlackBerry.
Meanwhile, BlackBerry sales are being watched closely in the countries where it has been released, for some indication as to whether the new BlackBerry 10 (BB10) platform and devices are pulling the company out of its downward descent.
Earlier this week, BlackBerry said that more than 100 businesses in the U.K. were testing the devices, as the company tries to build on its base in enterprises. One of the new business-friendly features in BB10 is Balance, where personal data is kept separate from business data, allowing IT departments the control and security they need while letting users keep their personal information to themselves.
'Show Me the Money'
There are conflicting reports about how well sales are actually going in the countries where the Z10 is on sale. BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins has said that initial sales in the U.K. were "close to three times our best performance ever for the first week of sales for a BlackBerry smartphone," and that the Canadian launch was "the best day ever for the first day of a launch of a new Blackberry smartphone" in that country. But reports of sellouts have been tempered by other reports that retailers were receiving only about 15 units each, and that sellouts were an indication of inventory mis-calculation instead of overwhelming demand.
A key factor in a platform's success can be the quality and number of apps. About 70,000 apps were available for the platform at its launch on January, but a key question is whether third-party developers will quickly grow that number, and possibly offer some apps that take advantage of any unique attributes.
Al Hilwa, program director for Application Development Software research at IDC, said that developers want to see the number of BB10 devices out there and are "in a 'show me the money' attitude," especially given several new platforms that are vying for the third position after Android and iOS.
But, Hilwa noted, BlackBerry has three things going for it. It is "actively evangelizing" to help developers, it is focusing on a Web, HTML5-based model, and it has provided tools for converting existing Android apps to the BB10 platform.