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BlackBerry optimistic as U.S. launch of Z10 smartphone nears

The phone featuring the BlackBerry 10 operating system faced more than a year of delays. An executive says the time was needed to get it right.

March 21, 2013|By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times
  • The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone is tried out during its launch in Jakarta, Indonesia. It will be launched in the U.S. on Friday.
The BlackBerry Z10 smartphone is tried out during its launch in Jakarta,… (Dimas Ardian, Bloomberg )

Friday marks a big day for BlackBerry, the struggling Canadian smartphone maker that is looking for a turnaround amid dwindling market share and intensifying competition from Apple and Samsung.

Its prospects hinge on a successful launch of the Z10 touch-screen-only smartphone running the long-awaited BlackBerry 10 operating system. AT&T Inc. will be the first U.S. wireless carrier to start selling it Friday, followed by T-Mobile on Tuesday and Verizon on Thursday.

Ahead of the all-important launch, The Times spoke with Richard Piasentin, BlackBerry's U.S. managing director.

BlackBerry 10 was released after more than a year of delays. During that time, rivals stole market share and released cutting-edge phones that made BlackBerrys look outdated. Why the wait?

We made a commitment to our partners and our clients that we would release BlackBerry 10 when it was ready and when it fulfilled the promises we'd made about what the next-generation BlackBerry experience would be like.... That very positive sentiment that we're seeing from reviewers, users, etc. is validating the decision to make sure we released the product when it was complete. And it really is complete.

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Let's say BlackBerry 10 and the two smartphones that run the operating system, the Z10 and the Q10, fail to catch on. Then what? The last time we spoke, at the International Consumer Electronics Show in January, you mentioned BlackBerry has no Plan B.

We've got great confidence in the platform. Failure is not an option in the U.S. market for Blackberry.

Are we going to see BlackBerry's 6% market share in the U.S. tick back up?

It has been very gratifying to see the response in the 25 countries [where the Z10 has launched]. We are seeing significant adoption by non-BlackBerry people, and that's a great indicator for us. It bodes well for the success that we will have.

Still, BlackBerry 10 lags behind competitors when it comes to apps. It launched Jan. 30 with 70,000 apps; Apple's App Store has more than 800,000. How do you make up for that gap?

The good news is when we launch in the U.S. on Friday, we'll be launching with 100,000 apps. That's 30,000 apps in less than 60 days.... Our experience and the feedback we're getting from people is the apps that they want to have are available or are announced to be coming.

There are a lot of new features on BlackBerry 10 — BlackBerry Hub, BlackBerry Flow, an innovative touch-screen, live screen-sharing, better cameras. Do you have a favorite?

I have two favorites, which are related. My favorite feature is Time Shift .... the ability to select the best possible expression on a series of faces [in a photo]. My second favorite is the on-board photo editing.

How would you persuade an iPhone or Android user to switch to a BlackBerry 10 phone?

My assumption is they are somebody who has to get things done and has to keep moving, and we designed BlackBerry 10 to allow people to keep moving. It's really going back to our heritage, which is saving people time one second at a time. I'm sure in those other platforms, folks have been frustrated at having to move from application to application. Some reviewer mentions BlackBerry 10 is a whiz at multitasking, and it really is. It makes a difference.

Much has been made about the touch-screen on the Z10, which has promised a more accurate typing experience. What do you say to users who refuse to let go of physical keyboards?

The responsiveness of the screen is [such that] you almost forget you're using a touch-screen; you're really just interacting with the image. Couple that with the power of the keyboard to learn the way you type and the way you speak. Folks before had to make the decision, "Do I compromise typing accuracy for screen real estate?" They don't have to make that compromise anymore.

You carry both the Z10 as well as the Q10, the BlackBerry 10 smartphone with a physical keyboard. Be honest: Which do you use more?

I was a die-hard keyboard user. I run both devices, I love both of them. But I've come to really appreciate the speed of the on-screen keyboard, the ability to type with one thumb with flicks … I use the Z10 95% of the time, which, if you had asked me six months ago, I would not have predicted that.

When can we expect the Q10 in the U.S.?

My phone is literally ringing off the hook with people saying, "Hey, can you get me a Q10?" We're very excited about the product. It'll first be released globally in April, and we'll be working with our carriers to bring it to the [U.S.] market as quickly as possible.

In January, the company announced it was changing its name from Research in Motion to BlackBerry. What has been the effect?

I'd go to a dinner party and they'd say, "Where do you work?" and I'd say, "RIM," and they'd say, "What?" For us, it's recognition of the fact that the company itself has changed. And we are BlackBerry; that's what we make for people and that's what they recognize. The changes in the company are comprehensive. We aren't the company we were before, so it's a great turning point.

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