AT&T Inc. will begin selling Research In Motion Ltd.'s new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone next week, marking the smartphone's debut in a crucial U.S. market that has largely shunned RIM devices in recent years.
After unveiling the new BlackBerry at a glitzy event in Manhattan on Jan. 30, RIM launched the device in the U.K. on Jan. 31 and in Canada on Feb. 5, with a global roll-out that saw the device land in other markets around the world. But in a surprise to many industry observers, RIM delayed the smartphone's availability in the U.S., due to what some sources said was a lack of interest from large U.S. carriers focused on more popular devices from Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and other players that have battered RIM in the market place.
Reviewers have praised the new touchscreen Z10 as being a vast improvement over the company's previous BlackBerrys, but analysts are not bullish on the phone's chances among U.S. consumers, who have largely abandoned BlackBerry over the years for iPhones and devices running Google Inc.'s Android software. Many tend to think that the BlackBerry Q10, which retains RIM's famous physical keyboard, will sell better with the mainly corporate BlackBerry users who remain in the U.S.
"Let's see if the U.S. consumer installed base cares about the Z10," says Kris Thompson, an analyst at National Bank Financial. "Our view remains that they don't. The Q10 will be more important, as it caters to the enterprise installed base, which no doubt will enjoy an improved user experience with the new [operating system]."
In the U.S., RIM's market share has fallen to just 5.9 per cent, according to market research firm comScore Inc., but the market remains important for the BlackBerry maker. The U.S. alone still accounts for about 19 per cent of the company's earnings, despite the fact that RIM now pulls in about 65 per cent of its overall revenue from international markets outside the U.S., U.K., and Canada – in markets such as Indonesia, South Africa and Venezuela.
The delay to the Z10's availability has been a source of confusion, and analysts were forced to slash previous sales estimates based on an expected U.S. launch in February.
On Monday, RIM shares were up more than 13 per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange following the news from AT&T. But the stock was also jolted by comments from Lenovo Group Ltd. chief executive officer Yang Yuanqing to a French newspaper, saying the computing giant might look at buying RIM – the second time in recent months that a Lenovo executive has mused before the media about possibly purchasing the smartphone maker.
National Bank's Mr. Thompson did not put too much faith in the rumour. "Why would Lenovo management talk publicly about a planned takeover?" he asked. "Wishful thinking."
Consumer pre-sales of the Z10 device on AT&T will begin on March 12, and reports suggest that Verizon Communications Inc. is expected to launch the device in late March. The BlackBerry Q10 device is meant to launch shortly afterward, perhaps in April.
The delay to availability in the U.S. was an early stumble as RIM launched its new device, and led many analysts to cut their earnings estimates for RIM's March 28 fourth-quarter results, which will include at least some of the early sales of RIM's new lineup of devices – and give investors and others a glimpse into whether the devices are selling as well as the company's executives are suggesting.
Research In Motion (BB)