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Hugo Miller and Sarah Frier, Bloomberg News, Published March 21 2013

BlackBerry Z10 debut marks big comeback test

TORONTO – BlackBerry’s new Z10 smartphone goes on sale in the United States this weekend, almost two months after its debut in other countries, putting the company’s comeback plan to the test in its largest single market.

Chief Executive Officer Thorsten Heins kicked off U.S. sales of the device on Thursday night at a theater in New York’s Times Square. The event marks the arrival of the Z10 at AT&T stores today. The phone will be offered by Verizon Wireless on Thursday.

Heins is trying to reverse BlackBerry’s fortunes in the U.S., where the one-time smartphone leader has lost ground to Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android. Sales in the country fell by almost half to $520 million in the third quarter from a year earlier, through the U.S. still accounts for about a fifth of revenue for Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry.

“There’s no risk of overstating the importance of the U.S. for BlackBerry,” said Ramon Llamas, an analyst with IDC in Framingham, Mass. “It’s such an important bellwether market.”

Critics have praised the Z10’s features, including its virtual keyboard. It also lacks a home button, which is used by the iPhone or Samsung Electronics Co.’s Galaxy S to take users back to the main screen. The Z10 relies instead on gesture- driven navigation to switch between applications and peek at messages while still in the Web browser.

Shares of the company, formerly known as Research In Motion, have rallied 36 percent this year on optimism that the new lineup can revive BlackBerry’s prospects. The stock added 1 percent today, closing at $16.16. Still, it remains down almost 90 percent from its 2008 high of $147.55.

The company will appeal mainly to existing BlackBerry users looking to upgrade, rather than gaining converts from Android and Apple’s iOS operating system.

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