New BlackBerry phone launched in US in key test
|A new Blackberry Z10 smartphone is displayed at a store in New York, March 22, 2013. REUTERS|
WASHINGTON - The newest version of the BlackBerry smartphone went on sale in the United States on Friday in what is seen as a crucial test for the struggling tech firm.
The BlackBerry Z10, the first phone using the new BlackBerry 10 platform, is being sold through T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, and at US retailer Best Buy.
The new platform is seen as the Canadian firm's last opportunity to regain ground in a market dominated by Google's Android and Apple's iOS operating systems.
The touchscreen Z10 has already been launched in other markets, including Australia, Britain and Indonesia. The company also plans a model with a physical keyboard called Q10.
While the launch lacked the crowds seen for the iPhone, an event held in New York's Times Square and recounted on the BlackBerry blog showed interest among US customers to be the first to get the device just after midnight.
"Here's Manny, an eager fan who 'just had to be the first' to get his hands on the new BlackBerry Z10 in the United States," said a caption for a picture on the blog. "He was met with cheers from the crowd as he held up his newly activated device."
But Daniel Ernst, an analyst at Hudson Square Research, said demand appeared to be sluggish in a check of retailers.
"Today, we found no lines, no signage announcing the launch, and clerks told us they had very few pre-orders," he said.
The new device has received generally positive reviews, but analysts say it will be an uphill battle for BlackBerry, which has lost much of its market share.
According to research firm IDC, BlackBerry's global market share fell to 3.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, from 8.1 percent a year earlier.
Gartner analyst Van Baker said it will be difficult to recoup those losses.
"Although BB10 presents a modernized new platform based on touch technology, market conditions will make it extremely difficult for BlackBerry to rise above iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8 platforms," Baker said in a blog post.
"In fact, Gartner predicts that through 2016, BlackBerry will achieve less than five percent worldwide smartphone market share."
Richard Anthony at BGC Financial said there will be initial demand from some of the 79 million BlackBerry customers worldwide seeking to upgrade.
"However, the initial demand may wane as competition in the high end smartphone space is fierce, and the major smartphone platforms are supported by companies much larger than BlackBerry," he said in a note to clients.
Shares in BlackBerry fell 7.7 percent to $14.91.
BlackBerry said this week that it has 100,000 apps for the BB10 platform, with 30,000 added in the past seven weeks.
"The response to the BlackBerry 10 platform and applications has been outstanding," said company spokesman Martyn Mallick.
"We constantly hear from developers that the BlackBerry 10 tools are easy to build with and that we provide opportunities for app differentiation that they do not see on other platforms."
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