In a sad scene that may not bode well for the comeback of the cellphone giant formerly known as Research in Motion, the new BlackBerry Z10 debut on its home turf to very unenthusiastic, even lonely reception in what should be the Canadian company's most enthusiastic market. Whether the uneven homecoming continues an early trend abroad of uneven sales for the first of two phones on the company's hail-mary BlackBerry 10 platform remains unclear until the Z10 goes on sale in the U.S. next month — analyst remain cautiously optimistic — but according to The New York Times's Ian Austen, a launch event in Ottawa last night certainly didn't look good:
When the Bell Canada store in the Rideau Centre, an upmarket shopping mall and transit hub in the city’s downtown, opened its doors at 8:30 a.m., only seven customers entered. Five became some of the first North Americans to buy the BlackBerry Z10 phone... One of the early arrivals, who declined to discuss his shopping, appeared to purchase a Samsung smartphone while a woman left empty-handed after 10 minutes.
Sales didn't pick up throughout the day either, and two hours later the store was desolate. Austen continues: "By 10:15 a.m., the Bell store in the mall was empty except for four clerks as was the Telus shop, a small carrier’s kiosk and several independent electronics shops. At the Apple store, there was about 20 customers and a half dozen people at the genius bar." Other reports suggest mild crowds, as well. "There weren't the typical long lineups," noted CBC in a contrast from four years ago, when the BlackBerry Storm launch drew hundreds and incited a mini-riot. Even the main Canadian launch in Toronto yesterday looked lacking, reports TechCruch:
As chronicled by a very excited CrackBerry Kevin — the man who had his ponytail cut off during the BlackBerry 10 launch event — the scene featured balloons, tall CEO Thorsten Heins, and drew a "crowd" consisting of what TechCrunch's John Biggs kindly describes as "plenty of loyal BlackBerry customers."
"The Canadian people were always behind us," Heins said at the event, with zero Canadian people standing behind him, and only a few more in front of him. "It was amazing to see how that support was not fading over time." That's both an ironic and pretty false statement, as Canadian support for the Canadian company has faded at a fast rate. In 2009, Research in Motion captured 67 percent of Canada's smartphone market, according to Canada Business. Now BlackBerry (which changed its name at the BlackBerry 10 launch) has a 4.5-percent marketshare, less than the 4.6 percent marketshare it has worldwide, a sad decline for the company's home country.
One would think our neighbors to the North would support one of its biggest businesses. Once the most valuable company in Canada, RiM/Blackberry's sharp decline into near-irrelevancy has already had an impact on the country's economy. The Waterloo-based tech company has laid off 5,000 of its 16,500 employees in the last year, alone. Graduates of the local university, "one of the world's best technology schools" are heading instead to Google or making their own, small, start-ups, per the Times's Austen. The successful phonemaker has also donated a lot of money to a school that has a pittance of an endowment, at $261 million, compared to MIT and Stanford's $16.5 billion and $10.3 billion, respectively.
Some analysts suggest the non-existent lines for the Z10 won't end up reflecting its ultimate sales figures. "Limited initial supply" was at fault for the Z10, Canaccord analyst Michael Walkley told CNET. Another analyst told CBC that the two biggest Canadian carriers, Rogers and Bell, had reported "strong demand," with 50 percent of pre-orders coming from non-BlackBerry users. "We're hearing that pre-order sales have exceeded iPhone sales for the last three months," said Chris Umiastowski. Of course, the iPhone 5 debuted in September, so the two numbers don't line up. Other analysts say that Z10 orders have come in the "thousands" range, again, a small figure compared to the 5 million iPhone 5s Apple sold in Canada its first weekend.
But it's not all bad news from the homefront. At least one Canadian BlackBerry buyer got the Z10 due to patriotism. "It's a Canadian company" said Reid McCrory, justifying his switch from an iPhone 4S to Austen. "Plus I'm really tired of iPhones. I've smashed several of them already."