Written exclusively for Berryfication.com by Greg Wesson (@lombaki)
BlackBerry entered the consumer market with the BlackBerry Pearl in 2006, launched on T-Mobile. The Pearl ended up on all the major carriers. Once BlackBerry had found a new market for their devices, they launched a flagship 3G device, the Bold 9000, released on AT&T in 2008 (rumor has it that T-Mobile had the option to carry their own 3G version but passed on the 9000). In 2009, in an attempt to grab some of the iPhone users from AT&T, Verizon launched the Storm. More recently, Sprint had put out information that it would be the first to carry a 4G PlayBook on WiMax, but it never happened. Why the history lesson?
At the end of the year, a whole new BlackBerry will hit the market. BB10 is set to make new BlackBerry history somewhere around October,according to leaked roadmap slides. So one of the big questions is, “Who will get the new Berry?” The phones I listed were, in their own right, flagship devices.The first Pearl, the first Bold, the first all touch, and what would have been the first carrier endorsed, cell-enabled BlackBerry tablet. The upcoming BB10 devices will need a carrier, or carriers. So who will be the first? Are they fighting over carrying it? Will BlackBerry release it on all carriers simultaneously?
I’ll admit, I’m on T-Mobile and I’d love to see the new device drop there first, but I’m afraid that if the first BB10 doesn’t hold the coveted LTE branding, then BlackBerry will get roasted for such an “inferior” product. TMO isn’t set to get LTE until 2013; that could be a full year after BB10 launch. Meanwhile, Sprint is claiming that they will have an LTE network ineffect in 2012, but we have yet to see it and rolling out new networks is always tricky. That limits the current LTE carriers to Verizon and AT&T.
First up, AT&T. They helped finance and launched the Torch 9800. It was the first OS6 BlackBerry, the first slider with a large touchscreen, the first touchscreen without SurePress, and the first BlackBerry utilizing the Torch Mobile Browser after RIM had acquired Torch Mobile. It really didn’t do all that well. AT&T had so much involved in the 9800 that it also launched the 9810 when OS7 arrived. Due to the small amount of changes made (all internal it seems), the 9810 was able to launch for $50 on contract. I don’t have numbers, but from what I’ve heard, it still didn’t do well. AT&T has been burned by the Torch. They also pushed back the 9900 launch and took some serious flack for altering Bridge. At this point, I’m not sure they are going to be very interested in carrying another BlackBerry as a prominent phone. The biggest positive here is that theiPhone is no longer an AT&T exclusive. Still, RIM might have its work cutout for itself to rebuild that burnt bridge.
What about Verizon? Well, they pushed for the Storm all those years ago and what they ended up with was an unfortunately unfinished device. Even when they received the Storm2, it just wasn’t what they wanted to compete with the iPhone and VZW turned their eyes to Android. Today, Android is a major influence at Verizon, even though they carry the iPhone. Sure, they carry BlackBerry today, even the 9930, but they haven’t pushed a BlackBerry since the Storm. So why would they carry a new device?
With T-Mobile’s LTE being up to a year-and-a-half away and some possibly bad relations with AT&T and VZW, that leaves Sprint; not exactly the first thought you want when launching a re-birthed brand. Sprint recently agreed to buy approximately $20 Billion worth of iPhones in order to carry the super popular device. Even more recently, the CEO took a huge bonus cut of $3.25 Million in light of the subsidies to the iPhone. Amidst all the controversy, rumors say that Sprint will be the exclusive carrier of the iPhone 5 (or The New iPhone) for an undisclosed length of time. I can’t imagine why Apple would agree to that, but if true, it makes the idea of Sprint carrying and pushing a BlackBerry in their stores much less likely.
That’s four strikes, and you only get three. One of the major points of BB10 is to get BlackBerry back into the “cool” column in the U.S.A. Without a great carrier relation, I fear for a solid launch. So, who will get the BB10? What is the best move for BlackBerry? Should they go with one carrier? Should they blanket the market with all carriers, regardless of how well the carrier pushes the device? Could BB10 sell itself? Give us your view in the comments.
(On the rumor front, T-Mobile currently has dibs on BB10. I’d like to see it hit ready for their HSPA+ and upcoming LTE.)