News Column

BlackBerry Preps for Z10 US Launch

March 22, 2013

As BlackBerry prepares to launch its Z10 smartphone in the U.S. today, the Canadian manufacturer hopes to reverse its fortunes in the ompetitive mobile market.

The Z10 represents a significant shift for BlackBerry, ditching the signature physical keypad for a full touch-screen. The device includes a smart keyboard that suggests words as you type, and BlackBerry Balance for creating separate home and work profiles.

The smartphone will be available through AT&T's wireless network, and on Verizon and T-Mobile next week.

The Z10 arrives as BlackBerry fights an uphill battle to recapture a slice of the smartphone market, dominated by Apple's iOS and Google Android. As of January, BlackBerry was the third-most-popular smartphone platform, with 8% market share, far behind Google (54%) and Apple (34%), according to researcher ComScore.

Ramon Llamas, an analyst for market researcher IDC, says the surge in competition and BlackBerry's failure to adopt key features, such as touch-screens and a thriving app environment, contributed to its decline. "BlackBerry stayed tried and true to where its strengths were," he says.

The company will try to remedy those weaknesses with the Z10, which boasts a 4.2-inch touch-screen. BlackBerry will also host a digital store with 100,000 apps that include Facebook and Twitter. That's still far behind Apple's App Store and Google Play for Android, each of which top 700,000 apps.

BlackBerry still has an opportunity to carve out a place in the smartphone space by catering to its most dedicated users, says analyst Jefferson Wang of IBB Consulting.

"BlackBerry doesn't have to beat Apple or Android to be successful," Wang says. "They just need to maintain this niche position and continue to grab its share of users and build from its loyal customer base."

Once the dominant smartphone on the market, BlackBerry continues to fall out of favor with users. In 2009, BlackBerry was among the leaders in the industry, with a 47% share of the U.S. smartphone shipments, according to IDC. Since then, it has plummeted to 2% as of last year.

"It's going to be long and slow," Llamas says of the BlackBerry Z10's potential impact. "This is a very different platform from what they had before."

Wang says BlackBerry must justify the two-year wait on its upgraded BlackBerry 10 operating system to keep its core consumers on board. "If after that amount of time, they aren't able to at least stop the market decline in their products, the market's not going to have a lot of patience to stay with that brand."

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Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013