AT&T will sell the BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen smartphone on March 22 for $199.99 with a two-year contract, the carrier confirmed Monday.
Online orders will begin Tuesday on AT&T's web site. It will be the first BlackBerry phone on the AT&T LTE network, which now covers an area reaching 288 million people in the U.S.
The BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen smartphone.
AT&T said it will also support BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10, allowing BlackBerry 10 smartphones such as the Z10 to have firewall-protected security such as its Balance technology, which allows a user to separate work and personal data on the device.
In its official announcement, Jeff Bradley, AT&T senior vice president of devices, called attention to innovations in BB10, including an easy-to-use touchscreen. "Customers who have grown to love the tried and true BlackBerry experience will continue to enjoy the easy typing and secure platform they expect with a fresh platform that lets them get more out of their smartphone with easy access to all their messages in BlackBerry Hub," he said.
The Z10 went on sale in February in the UK and Canada, and Canadian carriers charged $149 for the phone, but with a three-year contract. The $200 price under contract puts the Z10 at the high end of subsidized U.S. smartphones, but some have been released at $250 with a contract, then reduced in price in the next six months.
"Lots of other smartphones sell for $49 or $100 under contract, so there's going to be a lot of price comparing going on," said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC.
The Z10 got generally favorable reviews when first announced, although sales estimates after its first weeks on the market in the UK were quickly dropped by a prominent analyst there.
Some U.S. analysts are unsure how U.S. corporations will judge the Z10. AT&T and BlackBerry have focused on the Z10 as a radical departure from previous BlackBerry devices, which have slipped to below 5% of the global smartphone market.
"I have heard a lot of people say they are taking a wait-and-see approach, saying let's not be the first to get it and see what the experience for the first adopters is," Llamas said. "That follows the pattern of other new devices, including the first iPhone."
Some CIOs told Computerworld that the BlackBerry Balance and the security features of BES 10 when working with the Z10 might not matter, especially if their workers, who are allowed to buy their own smartphones under Bring Your Own Device policies, don't buy the Z10 or its Q10 cousin with a qwerty keyboard.
Sprint has said it will carry the Q10, but not the Z10, even though BlackBerry officials originally said all four major U.S. carriers would carry the Z10 by mid-March. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA have not announced a launch date or pricing. AT&T did not say whether it would carry the Q10.
Llamas said the fate of the Z10 in the U.S. is hard to predict, since marketing of the device hasn't been revealed. The U.S. market is considered vitally important to BlackBerry.
Llamas said there is a chance that the Z10 could be a "wildfire success or could struggle" depending on how marketing goes.
"Here it is already mid-March and the only marketing of the Z10 was the BlackBerry 10 SuperBowl ad that didn't win over a lot of people," Llamas said. "My hope is that BlackBerry is going to pour it on, marketing the new user interface and highlight features such as peek and flow. BlackBerry has probably trained the carriers' salespeople well. I cannot anticipate that BlackBerry will release the Z10 with minimal marketing."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
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