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A BlackBerry Z10. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
A BlackBerry Z10. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

RIM's record one-million BlackBerry order: Signs of a turnaround? Add to ...

Research In Motion Ltd. announced an order of one million new BlackBerry 10 smartphones, its largest single order ever, as the company looks to the devices to drive a much-needed turnaround.

RIM’s volatile shares surged more than 8 per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange Wednesday on the news, continuing a recent winning streak.

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The Waterloo, Ont.-based company said the deal is with one of its “established partners,” which it did not name.

The large bulk order of the new make-or-break BlackBerrys comes as RIM makes its push into the critical U.S. market. The order is likely from one of the two largest U.S. wireless carriers: AT&T Inc. or Verizon Communications Inc., according to two former RIM executives.

In separate announcements, AT&T Inc. said on Monday the Z10 will be available on its network starting on March 22 and Verizon said on Wednesday it would launch the touchscreen Z10 on March 28. The BlackBerry Q10, which retains a physical keyboard, is not expected to launch until at least April.

The BlackBerry Z10 phone is designed to turn around RIM’s business after market-share losses to smartphone rivals led the company to an arduous transition to new technology, thousands of employee layoffs and big losses.

It is difficult to compare the initial sales of the Z10 – the sole new BlackBerry currently on sale – with previous launches of the many versions of BlackBerry models.

But the size and timing of the million-device order clearly sent a positive message to a jittery market eager for a sense of how the Z10 is selling around the world – and, consequently, RIM’s chances of thriving in the booming global smartphone market.

On Monday, RIM’s stock soared more than 13 per cent after Chinese electronics giant Lenovo Group Ltd.’s chief executive officer mulled a potential future acquisition of the Canadian tech company – the second time a Lenovo executive has mentioned a possible RIM takeover.

RIM, which has issued only vague tidbits of information about Z10 sales in advance of its formal fourth-quarter results on March 28, declined to make an executive available Wednesday to discuss the large order.

“An order for one million devices is a tremendous vote of confidence in BlackBerry 10,” Rick Costanzo, RIM’s excutive vice-president for global sales, said in a company statement. “Consumers are ready for a new user experience, and BlackBerry 10 delivers. With strong partner support, coupled with this truly re-invented new platform, we have a powerful recipe for success.”

The Z10 has won praise from reviewers, but whether consumers will buy the revived lineup of BlackBerrys is uncertain. Because the order almost certainly originated from a wireless carrier, the devices must still be sold to end users – although AT&T started taking orders of the Z10 on March 12.

One of the former RIM executives suggested the figure of one million devices is not dramatically larger than the previous record of smartphones RIM shipped at one time, which came from AT&T and was for about 750,000 devices. In the third quarter of fiscal 2012, RIM shipped 14.1 million BlackBerrys to carrier partners around the world; in the same quarter of fiscal 2013, it shipped 6.9 million.

It is difficult to compare the one-of-a-kind launch of the repeatedly delayed and heavily publicized Z10 smartphone to order for previous devices. RIM launched the last batch of new BlackBerrys, running the BlackBerry 7 operating system, in August, 2011.

 
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