The new BlackBerry Z10 smartphone is launching in the crucial U.S. market on Friday, where Research In Motion Ltd. needs to see success as it mounts a comeback after losing ground to rivals Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.
But at an AT&T store in the heart of Manhattan's Times Square, there was no outward sign that Friday was a crucial day for BlackBerry in the world's largest market for high-end smartphones – no signs, no banners and no lines. Inside the store, staff outnumbered customers. And there, at the start of nine smartphones all in a row, sat the Z10 in its American debut.
Sales people said that no one had yet purchased a Z10, but the shopping day had just begun a half hour earlier. They added that in recent weeks, customers have been asking when the device would arrive. On the Nasdaq, RIM shares were down about 5 per cent in mid-afternoon trading.
RIM held a global launch party for the Z10 in Manhattan on Jan. 30, where it announced that the phone wouldn't launch in the U.S. market for months – launching first in the U.K., Canada, India and many other countries around the world. Given the importance of the U.S. as RIM's largest market in terms of revenue, the delay took many observers by surprise – and wireless industry sources said that was related to BlackBerry's waning importance to such major U.S. carriers as AT&T.
Kimaya Parris, 21, a sales person at the Times Square store, said she is one of those considering making the switch to the Z10.
"It's phenomenal, it's really sleek" compared to other BlackBerry smartphones, Ms. Parris said.
She praised the display and said another selling point was BlackBerry Messenger, which she can use to communicate with friends and family back in Guyana without additional text-messaging charges.
For now, she is using an iPhone and an Android device but she's due for an upgrade. "I've been waiting," she added. "Maybe it'll even be today."
A few tourists had inquired about the Z10 on Friday morning, Ms. Parris said, but no one had taken the plunge. The Globe wasn't the only party curious about how the debut was going – a few people from AT&T's corporate operations were also due to stop by.
Of course, RIM sells its devices through carrier partners, rather than through its own branded stores like Apple, so new devices rarely attract lineups, given the sheer number of retailers offering BlackBerrys. Some lineups, however, were reported when the new device launched in London, England.
But the real glimpse of how well the Z10 is selling will come next week, RIM reports financial earnings on Thursday that will include all of the sales figures from the U.K. launch on Jan. 31 up until March 2, when that financial quarter ends.
And hopes are high, even if there is a lot of skepticism. RIM needs to show the market that its new phones have found traction with consumers and business people, but it has only been able to offer vague hints so far – such as the claim that this BlackBerry's launch has gone better than any other in the company's history – that its phones are selling.
Earlier this week, Morgan Stanley analyst Ehud Gelblum upgraded the stock on the opinon that "in contrast to our prior thinking, we now believe there may be room in the handset market for niche mid-range players."