Tech blogs and websites are all atwitter on the news that AT&T will launch the BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) Z10 on March 15, just one day after the much anticipated Samsung Galaxy S IV launch. Despite reports on the poor timing of the launch, there's really only one thing that can hurt Z10 sales: BlackBerry's OS.
No time like the present
Let's be clear, there is no good time for BlackBerry to introduce its latest phone in the U.S. If the Z10 launched in the fall, it would have been on the heels of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone 5 debut. If it came out a couple months after, that then it would be in direct competition with new Windows Phone offerings by Nokia (NYSE:NOK). Launching the day after Samsung's Galaxy S IV debuts obviously isn't ideal, but later this summer Apple is likely to refresh the iPhone, making it yet another bad time to launch a new device and OS. The real battle for BlackBerry isn't about the Z10 launch time; it's about trying to grab OS market share.
Admittedly, that's a tall order to fill, and it's highly unlikely the company can pull it off. Sales of the Z10 in Britain and Canada have been promising for the company, though. In Britain, sales are three times better than previous model sales in the first week, and sales in Canada are up 50% over previous launches. Glentel, a large Canadian mobile phone retailer, said earlier this month that the Z10 was outselling the iPhone 5 and the Galaxy S III. But American consumers left BlackBerry for other lovers a long time ago.
BlackBerry used to have 50% smartphone market share in the U.S. just three years ago, but it's plummeted to just 1.6% now. The core of BlackBerry's customers, enterprise customers, have moved away from the company as the iPhone has grown in popularity with companies. Adding insult to injury, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone platform has now taken the No. 3 operating system spot away from BlackBerry with 3% market share. Windows Phones don't have the same amount of app offerings as Android or iOS, and BlackBerry's OS has even less. Even if the BB10 OS was a stellar product that blew away the smartphone competition, the lack of a substantial app ecosystem would make it difficult for consumers to drop the apps and other content on their current devices.
The cold, hard truth
Almost any way you slice it, BlackBerry's odds in the U.S. don't look good. The company may be able to get some existing customers to upgrade to the phone, but Android and iOS simply have too much dominance.
Investors should see the Z10 launch and the BB10 OS as the company's first step in the right direction, but not as its savior in the U.S. market. If the company can hold out long enough and build up a customer base, future updates to the OS (and phones) may start gaining real attention from consumers. The current offering, however, just isn't enough.