Research In Motion Ltd.’s comeback has hit an obstacle: American wireless carriers are in no hurry to get the newest version of the BlackBerry into customers’ hands.
One day after a splashy launch event in New York to unveil the BlackBerry 10, financial analysts and investors took a dim view of the news that RIM’s new touchscreen device won’t be available in the U.S. until March. A version of the phone with a physical keyboard won’t be on sale there until April.
RIM laid blame for delays on three factors: Regulatory hurdles, custom requirements from different wireless operators and differences between lab testing at each U.S. carrier.
The U.S. is one of the most lucrative smartphone markets in the world, and RIM derives roughly 22 per cent of its sales from this one market alone.
The delay caused some analysts to cut their projections for RIM’s fourth-quarter results. Tom Astle of Byron Capital Markets revised his estimate of BB10 sales from 2.5 million to just one million for the quarter. RIM’s fiscal fourth quarter ends on March 2. RBC Dominion Securities analysts also lowered unit shipments and dropped their price target on RIM from $19 to $18 (U.S.), while simultaneously raising expectations for the amount that RIM will likely need to spend on advertising and marketing.
In an interview the day before RIM’s BlackBerry 10 launch in New York, RIM chief executive officer Thorsten Heins said the company’s short-term goal was to “regain our market share and position in the U.S.,” and the company has spent big money to promote the devices in Super Bowl advertising this weekend.
“We need to show that we’re absolutely capable of building high-end devices,” Mr. Heins told The Globe.
But while Mr. Heins was announcing the devices and the delay on Wednesday, RIM shares started falling – ending the day down nearly 12 per cent – which was followed by a drop of almost 7 per cent on Thursday to $12.92 (Canadian).
“We have custom requirements from carriers in every country, and the U.S. is no exception, because all networks are not the same,” RIM chief marketing officer Frank Boulben said in an interview. “We try and do it as diligently as possible but there are some elements there that are just not compressible and so it takes a bit more time.”
Given the priority of the U.S. market for RIM – even with huge market share losses, it still accounts for a large portion of the company’s revenues – it is extremely unlikely that RIM actually wanted to delay the BlackBerry 10’s arrival in the U.S. But it may not have been RIM’s choice, and there are a variety of reasons why consumers in Canada, the U.K. and elsewhere will get their hands on RIM’s newest phones faster.
The likeliest reason behind a later launch in the U.S. is the fact that RIM is small player in the U.S., with a market share of only about 1.6 per cent, according to Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. Because so many consumers have migrated to Apple and devices running Google Inc.’s Android software, RIM falls lower on the list of wireless companies’ testing priorities, according to multiple sources.
“I think there’s no doubt that RIM was expecting all the U.S. carriers to launch on February 5,” said one senior Canadian wireless executive with knowledge of carrier testing processes.
“Yes, testing is not complete. And the real question is, ‘Why is testing not complete?’ And frankly, it’s because RIM is not relevant in the U.S. And (carriers) would say, I have a new this or a new that ... I’m going to do that ahead of you because you have less market share.”
This person also said that the few remaining, diehard BlackBerry fans in the U.S. are likely at big banks and other large corporations who are likely going to wait for the first BlackBerry 10 phone that actually has a physical keyboard, the BlackBerry Q10, which is meant to be released in April.
“I think that ultimately has to be a big disappointment for RIM,” this person said. “they obviously could not afford another delay, but they clearly made trade-offs in hitting the date that they did.”
At the same time, another source close to RIM said AT&T Inc. was willing to give the new devices a large advertising push only in March, mainly because of the BlackBerry’s relative unimportance in America’s booming consumer smartphone sector. RIM executives, of course, hope the new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone will change that.