BlackBerry Pulls an Amazon

BlackBerry (NASDAQ: BBRY  ) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) really have little to do with each other as far as their core businesses are concerned. One is a struggling smartphone maker whose entire turnaround is pinned on the recent launch of its BlackBerry 10 platform. The other is an e-tail giant with a tendency to disrupt everything it touches. The extent of their overlap is that both companies sell mobile gadgets -- BlackBerry sells smartphones and Amazon sells tablets.

Investors can now add another similarity to that short list: BlackBerry is being coy with its unit figures.

Lessons from Jeff Bezos
The new BlackBerry Z10 has gone on sale in the U.K. and Canada, two of its most important geographical segments. The U.S. launch will have to wait until March as carrier partners finish up testing the device before it can be cleared for sale. Initial indications are that the Z10 is off to a strong start with pent-up demand clearing out available supply.

The company has now issued a statement on early sales activity:

"In Canada, yesterday was the best day ever for the first day of a launch of a new BlackBerry smartphone. In fact, it was more than 50% better than any other launch day in our history in Canada," said Thorsten Heins, President & CEO of BlackBerry. "In the UK, we have seen close to three times our best performance ever for the first week of sales for a BlackBerry smartphone."

What investors won't find in there is actual unit sales data. No one outside of Waterloo has any idea how many units the company has sold on a launch day in Canada or how many BlackBerry units was the record for a first week of sales. That's just like how investors have no official clue on how many Kindle units Amazon had sold when it said this a year ago: "During the nine-week holiday period ending December 31, 2011, Kindle unit sales, including both the Kindle Fire and e-reader devices, increased 177% over the same period last year."

Of course a 177% jump sounds nice, but investors really want some more context since growth off a small base can be misleading. These figures are both specifically vague and vaguely specific at the same time.

I wonder what it would be like if Thorsten Heins and Jeff Bezos tried to see who could eat more spring rolls.

They're not alone
These aren't the only two tech companies to play unit figures close to the chest. Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) doesn't disclose unit figures of its Nexus devices. Motorola used to but that all stopped once it was swallowed by Big G. That's particularly frustrating since Googorola is a heavyweight in mobile and its Nexus gadgets are rather popular.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) also opted not to tell investors how many Surface RT tablets it sold during the fourth quarter, which was on sale for just over two months during that time frame. Steve Ballmer initially conceded the tablet was off to a "modest start" due to limited distribution channels.

As far as some of these mystery digits go, investors must turn to third-party estimates to get their fix. Market researcher IDC estimates that Amazon sold 6 million tablets in the fourth quarter. The researcher also estimates that Asus shipped 3.1 million tablets, which would have mostly been Nexus 7 devices. Some Android enthusiasts have tried to decode IMEI numbers on LG-built Nexus 4 smartphones to estimate that Big G only moved 370,000 units last quarter. Surface channel shipments were in the ballpark of 900,000, according to IDC's estimates.

Credit where credit due
In fairness, BlackBerry does disclose unit sales data when it announces quarterly earnings. The company just isn't sharing these Canada and U.K. launch figures.

Source: BlackBerry. Fiscal quarters shown.

BlackBerry will need to eventually tell investors how the Z10 is doing so they can judge for themselves how this turnaround is proceeding.

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Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2013, at 8:29 PM, dd27 wrote:

    Another nothing article from E. Niu. . . z z z

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2013, at 9:29 PM, JT1951 wrote:

    Is there a point to this story?

  • Report this Comment On February 07, 2013, at 11:14 PM, RandomMeaning wrote:

    The answer is simple. When a company tries to make the numbers sound good without actually announcing them, then they aren't actually good at all. If they were, they would have announced them.

    When companies play games like that, why trust them? Same thing with the recent fad of severely limiting supplies so that they can proclaim "sold out at many locations". That might make for a cute PR stunt but it does little to add to the bottom line.

    Again, it's hard to respect companies more interested in gimmicks than sales. Hopefully they will rise above that and present solid, honest data.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 8:43 AM, sammycooool wrote:

    The KING of lying about unit sales and sell-out of inventory is APPLE. You didn't even mention how they have lied for years when they launch a product. Is it because you don't know much or is it an "APPLE THING" to not tell the truth when they are concerned? APPLE set the standard for lying about unit sales and the media sucked up to them for years.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 8:55 AM, greenember wrote:

    Phones4U issued a statement saying that 55% of their stores sold out of both black and white Z10s on opening weekend. Add to that Thor's statement about exceeding their best ever sales numbers, and I think BBRY was actually caught off guard by their own success. I don't think the shortages were intentional, and Phones4U said they moved quickly to replenish stock 'within a few hours' at locations that sold out. Either way, I think analysts were surprised that they sold at all, and now are nit-picking trying to find negative things to write

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 9:26 AM, Hunter2013 wrote:

    Awesome response from greenember, when things go the opposite direction from prior predictions analysts always find a way to say I told you so and they like to have supportive arguments so they go all out and get quiet imaginative. What about BBRY didn't want to end up with huge inventory and have to write it off so they start with less quantity to see how the sales go around the world. How about their suppliers may not have been able to deliver more than these initial quantities to go around the world. There are many possibilities, but the author would just pick the one that suits them. Unfair and one sided, which makes this less valuable of an article, but thanks for trying.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 9:48 AM, mirra88888 wrote:

    If you cared to do your homework, you would know that the company said that Blackberry had their best sale on record in UK and Canada. They did not give numbers because they had to verified the exact numbers and did not want to through BS out there like the author is doing.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 11:00 AM, lborsato wrote:

    @mirra88888 I'm sure that everyone has seen that statement by now as it has been repeated as nauseum. Yet to make such a statement - I believe they said twice as good in Canada and three times as good in the UK - then they must know approximate numbers. And as @RandomMeaning says, that just suggests that the numbers themselves aren't as impressive as the words "best sales on record" even though they have no context.

    I'm not an analyst but I know that Rogers in Canada has about 450 stores and Phones4U has about 680, so I'm going to roughly extrapolate to about 4000 stores combined in both countries. If each store received about 30 phones (for both pre-order and walk-in), a complete sell out would result in about 120,000 phones across the two countries. That is my best case scenario as a complete guess.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 11:27 AM, Arthur1111 wrote:

    BlackBerry is already doing great. You missed on the 170% surge since Sep. You do not deserve to know, because you will find soemthing negative to say anyway.

  • Report this Comment On February 08, 2013, at 12:47 PM, digitally404 wrote:

    I can pretty much guarantee that InfoThatHelp's is going to be purchasing a Z10 before the end of the year.

    It's a fantastic phone and I would recommend it to all investors (and business peeps alike). Not to say that InfoThatHelp's an investor, far from it.

    The new phone is absolutely awesome. Peter Lynch always invested in products he's tried and loved. It's definitely a good strategy.

    The sales figures are not too important now, the main message is that the Z10 is selling well and seems to be exceeding BlackBerry's expectations, which is a very good sign.

    Sent on my BlackBerry 10 Phone

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