It’s been two weeks since BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) shed its Research In Motion identity, finally released its oft-delayed BB10 operating system, announced a pair of new BlackBerry smartphones and kicked off the most important product launch(es) in its history. The new BlackBerry Z10 hit carrier shelves in Canada and the U.K. last week, marking the device’s official transition from vaporware to actual shipping product.
So, how are things looking for the new BlackBerry?
Now that the euphoria has worn off, a bit of reality is sinking in. BlackBerry enjoyed a pretty solid and unusually positive run of press leading up to the BB10 launch, corresponding with an impressive 184% gain on the company’s stock price as investors piled on in hopes of a resurgence. Unfortunately, the news hasn’t been quite so positive since then, and BBRY is now trading around $15.45, off nearly 14% from the pre-launch frenzy.
Here’s a sampling of the sort of news that’s taking some of the shine off:
- New BlackBerrys were expected in the U.S. for the end of January (coinciding with the launch), but CEO Thorsten Heins threw water on that, pushing the U.S. release of the touchscreen Z10 to March (unless you feel like forking out $999 for one from Solavei). Now, word is hitting that the Q10 — the new BlackBerry with a physical keyboard that’s critical to keeping existing BlackBerry customers — may not hit U.S. carriers until mid-May or even June.
- One of the top trending articles on the BlackBerry Z10 was published in New York magazine by a journalist who received a free phone at the BB10 launch event. Unfortunately, his new BlackBerry died after four days of use. Not the kind of publicity BlackBerry needs.
- BGR published a piece showing the Z10 uses almost the same guts as Samsung’s Galaxy III smartphone. On the surface, this may sound positive (the Galaxy III is a top-notch device), but it reinforces the perception that BlackBerry is still playing catch-up in hardware. By the time U.S. customers get the Z10, they may be only be weeks away from the option of buying a Galaxy S IV that will leapfrog it.
- Heins made a point of bragging about the 70,000 apps BlackBerry World had on launch, but many of those are ported from Android and aren’t necessarily optimized for the BlackBerry’s capabilities. Worse, some of them are old versions. For example, GigaOM says the Skype app for BB10 will be a port of a two-year old Android version, lacking in recent features.
- BlackBerry’s new Creative Director Alicia Keys (who made a fuss about being BB10-exclusive) was busted tweeting from an iPhone. She claims she was hacked, but the damage is done.
- When the Z10 hit U.K. and Canadian carriers, BlackBerry would said it was the company’s most successful launch ever, but didn’t give actual numbers. According to Canada’s Financial Post, a check of 40 carrier retail locations on launch day showed that “several stores were sold out of the device by the end of its first day,” but also noted that some stores had received only five to 10 units. Even accounting for Canadian politeness, that’s far from a frenzy.
- Finally, BlackBerry stock dropped 4.6% on Monday after Home Depot (NYSE:HD) announced it was ditching 10,000 employee BlackBerrys to switch to Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone.
None of these setbacks is fatal, but the tone does put a crimp in BlackBerry’s hoped-for comeback narrative, costing it momentum.
With the new devices, major customers weren’t supposed to be dumping the platform they had been waiting two years for. The new smartphones were supposed to impress, not be written up as being competitive against last year’s models. It would have been gratifying to hear of Canada-wide Z10 sellouts (maybe even a waiting line or two). And the Alicia Keys appointment already looked a bit desperate when it was announced — now it’s threatening to become just sad.
Above all, after the lead-up to January’s launch and then making U.S. consumers wait months to get new BlackBerrys is probably doing the most damage. The longer would-be buyers have to wait, the more time they have to digest the ongoing dissection of BlackBerry devices and services while watching the rumor cycle start up for the next generation of Android devices and iPhones. And the less likely they are to keep waiting.
BlackBerry can still come back, but I suspect it’s going to be a lot tougher than it looked in those rosy days before Jan. 30.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.