The launch of BlackBerry’s flagship Z10 smartphone in the US was reported to have been met with a “muted” reception, sparking concern about the company’s performance in what has traditionally been one of its most important markets.
An analyst with Hudson Square Research told Reuters that with regard to the Z10 launch, it had seen “no lines, no signage announcing the launch, and clerks had told us they had very few pre-orders”.
Tech Trader Daily reported that Citigroup analyst Jim Suva had noted “shockingly low support by AT&T”, with the Z10 not receiving “hero” status in retail stores, and staff not trained to sell the smartphone.
Suva also said that in the markets where the Z10 is already available (such as Canada and the UK), operators have shifted to focus on devices such as Samsung’s anticipated Galaxy S4, and that customers are bemoaning the omission of some key apps from the BlackBerry proposition.
However, the same publication cited Peter Misek from Jefferies & Co, who said that demand was “slightly better than our very modest expectations” – a case of damning with faint praise if ever there was one.
Misek also said that its checks indicate that “AT&T Business is seeing significant interest and could account for a meaningful portion of demand”.
While the US has long been a core market for BlackBerry, it has been decreasing in prominence: in the company’s most recently reported quarter, US sales were 19 per cent of consolidated revenue, compared with 22 per cent in the prior sequential quarter.
It also noted that shrinkage in its BlackBerry service user base was predominantly a result of its weaker performance in the US.
As its legacy BlackBerry device line has lost its lustre, the company has managed to maintain its subscriber base by building its presence in emerging regions, as well as focusing on markets such as the UK, where it has a sizeable consumer customer base.
However, in the meantime its premium customer base in markets such as the US has shrunk, as high-end users shifted initially to Apple’s iPhone, and then other smartphones as the “bring your own device” trend gained ground.
In order to rebuild its position in the US market, it needs to provide an appealing rival to these devices, as well as capitalising on the well regarded (if somewhat tarnished) BlackBerry brand.
Following the launch of the Z10 in Canada, the company said that it had seen its “best ever” first day sales for a BlackBerry device, while noting that in the UK it had seen “close to three times” the best performance for the first week of sales of a BlackBerry device.