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This was definitely not part of the plan. When BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY ) unveiled its BB10 OS in January and introduced the world to its new phones, the market reaction wasn't what CEO Thorsten Heins was hoping for. One of the primary reasons for the immediate drop in share price after the BB10 announcement was the delay in releasing BlackBerry's Z10 and Q10 phones here in the States.
Right or wrong, smartphone manufacturers are at least partially measured by how well they do in America, and there's some logic to that. U.S. consumers are nuts about their smartphones, as Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) can attest. With little to no (relatively speaking, of course) market share outside America, Apple has essentially built a profit-generating machine based initially on its domestic iPhone sales. That's why BlackBerry's scheduled Z10 and Q10 U.S. release dates are so important.
First, a quick distinction: The difference between BlackBerry's Q10 phone and its Z10 version is that the former comes with a physical keyboard, a significant feature and a crucial differentiator for many BlackBerry fans.
As for the Z10, it's already out, but only in limited markets. If the rumors are true, and according to Heins they are, BlackBerry's Z10 is off to a nice start in the U.K., and pre-sales in BlackBerry's backyard of Canada are supposedly going gangbusters. What about the U.S.? According to Heins, we should see the Z10 sometime in mid-March, give or take, just as he mentioned at the BB10 launch last month. The delay is being blamed on domestic wireless carriers and their overly strict testing requirements.
Those strict testing requirements are also behind BlackBerry's latest stroke of misfortune. The Q10, according to Heins, won't be in the U.S. for "eight to 10 weeks after a carrier releases a model with only the touchscreen (the Z10)." After doing some quick math, the release date for the Q10 should be sometime in May or June, barring additional delays.
As you might imagine, Heins isn't pleased with the hiccups, saying, "Am I a bit disappointed? Yeah, I would be lying saying no. But it is what it is, and we're working with all our carrier partners to speed it up as much as we can."
By the time the Q10 hits U.S. shores and shortly after we see the Z10, one of BlackBerry's prime competitors, Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , will have reported its fiscal Q1 results, including recent sales figures for its Lumia flagship phone. If it's able to keep the Lumia ball rolling -- it announced sales of 4.4 million units in Q4 and 80 million total -- BlackBerry will be even further behind in its return to relevance. Like Apple, BlackBerry is also neglecting huge areas of the smartphone world, with both the Z10 and Q10 priced well beyond the means of emerging market consumers. With an additional four phones scheduled for release this year, according to BlackBerry's Jan. 30 BB10 announcement, perhaps one or two of those will target the non-subsidized markets. But that's a hurdle that'll need to take a backseat to BlackBerry's domestic delays, at least for now.
Do the delays of both smartphone model spell the end of BlackBerry? No. If nothing else, we've learned in the past couple of years that BlackBerry users are nothing if not loyal. But in the ultra-competitive smartphone industry, years are measured in weeks and months, and you can bet BlackBerry will pay a steep price for its delays.
Two things need to happen from here: No. 1, do not be late again, BlackBerry. Period. No. 2, those phones, with that new OS, better be good -- really, really good. If so, all will be forgiven. If not, even BB10 won't be able to save Heins and his team.
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