Research In Motion Ltd. launched its new BlackBerry smartphone in Canada, with telecom carriers reporting strong sales of the new device that is crucial to the company’s comeback attempt.
The Waterloo, Ont.-based company’s shares gained nearly 7 per cent on Tuesday, rising for the second day in a row as Canadian carriers such as BCE Inc. reported record pre-orders and pre-registrations of the new BlackBerry Z10 phone – a touchscreen device with a slightly bigger screen than Apple Inc.’s iPhone.
In the U.K., where the BlackBerry brand remains strong, customers lined up to buy the device and analysts reported that some wireless retailers were selling out of the new model.
“Our initial checks indicate that sales in the U.K. are off to a strong start,” said Jeffries & Co. analyst Peter Misek, noting some stores sold out of the device.
Canada’s Rogers Communications Inc., meanwhile, said “thousands” had signed up early to get hold of the new BlackBerry.
“People are really excited to see something fresh and new,” said Andrew MacLeod, RIM’s managing director for Canada.
One customer switching back to BlackBerry was Akilan Thurarirasa, who purchased his own BlackBerry Z10 at the Toronto Eaton Centre on Tuesday while talking on his Galaxy Note 2, a Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. device. “I’ve used BlackBerrys, an iPhone and Samsung,” said Mr. Thurarirasa, 28. “Now I’m going to BlackBerry.”
Winning back the many millions who have long left BlackBerry for competing smartphones, though, remains a major challenge for RIM. In Toronto the optimism around the BlackBerry didn’t manifest in any queues.
Across from the Yonge-Dundas Square Best Buy store with the new BlackBerry about to go on sale, Ryerson University student Grace Lo, 18, was sitting with a colleague, two iPhones resting on their table alongside a coffee. Both her and Bryan Chiu, 19, are former BlackBerry users, both having since switched to iPhones.
“There's more apps, there's more things to do,” Ms. Lo said. “My dad originally wanted to try the new BlackBerry 10, but he heard it was touchscreen and had no keyboard, so he was kind of disappointed.”
Of course, RIM has never really had lineups.The BlackBerry sells in hundreds of locations, from Rogers, Bell and Telus stores and kiosks to Best Buy and Future Shop, and it was never really expected to sell out – like previous iterations of Apple Inc.’s popular iPhone.
But the BlackBerry Z10, which went on sale on Tuesday across Canada, is not just a phone: It is the beginning of a new smartphone platform that RIM hopes will stem the company’s dwindling sales and turn around a business that saw its darkest days in 2012.
On Tuesday, RIM chief executive officer Thorsten Heins took took the airwaves, appearing widely on Toronto’s TV and radio stations, and giving a lunchtime address to the Empire Club at the Royal York hotel that garnered a standing ovation.
Momentum has been running high for the company, as it came off a successful unveiling in New York last week, a Super Bowl ad that ran over the weekend and an ego boost from carrier partners in Canada who reported strong customer interest for the new BlackBerry – including from people currently using iPhones or devices running Google Inc.’s Android software.
“There’s some platforms out there now that are ubiquitous, there’s a lot of prevalence with them,” Mr. MacLeod said. “There’s just a hunger and a desire for people to see what’s new and innovative and different. ... That’s why we’ve seen a lot of the pre-sales and pre-reg has been from other platforms, they haven’t just been from BlackBerry.”
But even as RIM rolls out the Z10 across the globe, and the BlackBerry Q10 – which has a physical keyboard – will follow, it is clearly just a beginning for RIM.
Mr. MacLeod said “there’s a robust roadmap” of devices to come over the next year: They will be aimed at people who want devices in different shapes and sizes, and at the big emerging markets, such as Nigeria and Indonesia, where BlackBerry is still a strong brand.
“Whether you want a smaller screen, a bigger screen – whether you want a hybrid between a smartphone or a tablet – I think what’s important is we now have a platform that can support all of those different preferences,” he said. “We will listen to the market and given them what they desire and want.”