BlackBerry has a last gasp, touch-only phone coming in November, and for U.S. fans the device will only be available only from Verizon. On Monday, the carrier announced the 5-inch BlackBerry Z30 would be a Verizon exclusive when it launches next month.
Smartphone exclusivity may seem pointless in an age where almost every major U.S. carrier offers the iPhone, but support from Verizon is exactly what BlackBerry needs right now. The company is in dire straits and desperately needs a big hit.
On Tuesday, BlackBerry announced another round of layoffs, trimming staff down by 300 people, according to the CBC, after announcing a staffing cut of 4500 and a horrendous earnings report in September. The Z30's predecessor, the Z10, was a flop; T-Mobile no longer carries BlackBerry phones in its stores.
So: Support from the largest American carrier couldn't come at a better time. But is it enough?
Meet the Z30
The phone itself, typical for many BlackBerry handsets, looks very nice. The BlackBerry 10-powered Z30 features a 5-inch Super AMOLED display with 1280-by-720 resolution. You also get an 8 megapixel rear-facing camera, 2MP front-facing, 16GB onboard storage, microSD slot, 2GB RAM, a 1.7GHz dual core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0 LE. The Z30 also has a 2880mAH battery promising up to 18 hours of talk time and 25 hours of mixed use.
The Z30 is priced at $200 with a new, two-year contract. A specific launch date was not announced.
The problem for BlackBerry is that nice phones only get you so far in a world dominated by Android and iOS devices. The Z30 is certainly priced to compete with flagship phones like the iPhone 5S and the Samsung Galaxy S4. But are there enough BlackBerry fans out there to keep the platform afloat?
It's telling that BlackBerry Messenger for iOS rocketed to the top of the iTunes charts once it was finally released. Later, BBM became a top app on Android as well. Long before Whatsapp and Kik showed up, BBM was a BlackBerry exclusive--and it was the app you wanted to send text messages to any other BlackBerry user worldwide.
So while the hype around BBM may have been driven in part by curiosity from new users, many early BBM adopters on Android and iOS were likely former BlackBerry users. As BlackBerry stagnated for five years and let Android and iOS run away with the smartphone market, users drifted away to more modern phones. It's hard to imagine them switching back, especially now that BBM is available on competing platforms.
The fight for bronze
Nevertheless, as many people in the mobile phone industry will tell you marketing and carrier support play a huge role in popularizing a smartphone, and the common wisdom is that carriers like Verizon and AT&T are desperate to see a strong third smartphone option beyond the near duopoly of Android and iOS devices. That third option could be BlackBerry (it ain't over 'til it's over folks), but it's looking more likely that Windows Phone will be the major minor player.
On Tuesday, Nokia said it shipped around 1.4 million smartphones--mostly, if not completely, Lumia devices--to North America during its most recent quarter. That's nearly triple the North American sales from last quarter and close to quintupling Nokia's pathetic outing to American shores in the third quarter of 2012.
Nokia may not be selling a ton of phones compared to its competitor, but its sales base is growing and that's what counts. BlackBerry, meanwhile, is steadily shrinking--and the Z30 on Verizon is looking more and more like a long bomb in the dying minutes of an all-but-lost game.