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Will the Delayed US Launch Date Hurt the BlackBerry 10?


Some analysts say it will hurt the company's momentum, but some say it never had much of that to begin with.

After months of delay, BlackBerry (NASDAQ:RIMM), the company formerly known as Research In Motion, finally introduced its long-awaited BlackBerry 10 smartphone devices earlier this week at a launch event.

The new BlackBerry Z10 and Q10, fitted with the upgraded BB10 software, are BlackBerry's answers to leading devices from market leaders Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Samsung (PINK:SSNLF).

The touchscreen BlackBerry Z10 made its retail debut on Thursday in the UK, with Canada due to get it starting February 5, and the UAE next in line on February 10. At this point, you're wondering: But what about the US? According to the company, customers in the world's biggest smartphone market will only be able to get their hands on the device sometime in mid-March.

This means that BlackBerry will not be able to capitalize on the surge of hype and publicity it has garnered here in the wake of Wednesday's launch event. The company has also paid through the nose for a coveted advertising slot in this Sunday's Super Bowl, where the call to action will end up being something like this: "Excited for our smartphone? Cool your jets because you'll have to wait a month and then some before you'll be able to get your hands on it!" In other words, the delay will all but kill any momentum it has garnered thus far.

The gap between the device introduction and US availability "risks dissipating excitement surrounding this launch as the US is a key market for BlackBerry," surmised analysts at Société Générale.

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins explained to reporters on Wednesday that the delay was because of "a rather lengthy" testing process at US carriers such as Verizon (NYSE:VZ), AT&T (NYSE:T), Sprint (NYSE:S), and T-Mobile.

"Everybody's trying to do the job as best they can," said Heins, according to Bloomberg. "I would love to see the US earlier, I really do, but what can we do?"

However, given that the new BlackBerry 10 operating system was announced all the way back in October 2011 and had been subjected to several launch delays, there surely was enough time for the Canadian company to arrange US carrier testing such that customers here do not have to wait for weeks before they can purchase the device.

Peter Curnow-Ford, CEO of Viatec Associates, a wireless technology consultancy, defended the tech company, telling Minyanville that testing for device testing in the US is more complicated compared to that in Europe.

He said that BlackBerry has "to complete testing at the different frequencies used by Verizon, Sprint, AT&T, and T-Mobile." To further complicate things, a device made for Verizon and Sprint has to support the CDMA standard while one used on AT&T and T-Mobile has to run on the GSM/WCDMA standard. In contrast, "the same frequency and standards are used in every country [in Europe]," said Curnow-Ford.

However, Vishal Jain, mobile services analyst at 451 Research, did not buy the carrier testing explanation for the delay, which he said has "been used over and over" again by different phone makers in the past.

Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Jain pointed out, trotted out the same rationale to explain why it initially launched its Lumia smartphone in Europe and Asia-Pacific instead of the US.

"Whereas BlackBerry has steadily lost market share in the US, it still enjoys some customer hold in non-US markets. So it must be hoping to show some good take-up numbers [abroad] before it finally lands on US shores. These numbers can be used for some good PR before the US launch," offered Jain.

Additionally, Jain said that BlackBerry could also have postponed the US availability of the Z10 because it "may not have enough real apps that are required to support its US launch." The newly renamed company said at Wesnesday's event that there would be over 70,000 apps upon the phone's release, but many tech sites have noted that it is still missing popular apps like Instagram and Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX).

Despite his skepticism of BlackBerry's explanation for its US delay, Jain did not think the March street date would hurt the company's new devices -- or rather, he did not think they stood much of a chance anyway.

"It doesn't matter when they are launched because these devices are primarily aimed at enterprises, and enterprise-buying is typically slower. When most enterprises are in the process of considering their BYOD [bring your own device] strategy for employees, Z10 becomes just another device. So the media hype or publicity doesn't impact their decision-making much," Jain said.

"Also, enterprises have gone quite far away in their journey to look for alternatives anyway."

(See also: Can Research in Motion Stop the Apple and Google Onslaught in the Enterprise Arena?)

Twitter: @sterlingwong

Disclosure: Minyanville has a commercial relationship with Blackberry.

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