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Telecoms feed BlackBerry buzz

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TORONTO -- While the new BlackBerry only landed in Canadian stores on Tuesday and there weren't lineups around the block, telecom carriers were already clamouring to declare the smartphone a winner with no hard numbers to back it up.

Expectations are set high for the BlackBerry to be a hit out of the gate, and executives at both the smartphone maker and the telecom carriers took no chances as they crafted a bombastic debut for the device.

Still, gleaning any certainty from what happened is nearly impossible.

In downtown Toronto, a flurry of activity unfolded at a Rogers store where the company paired its chief executive, Nadir Mohamed, with BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins for a photo opportunity before 24 specially invited customers picked up their pre-ordered phones for the cameras.

The duo then headed across the city to talk about the future of telecom to a Bay Street audience at the Empire Club of Canada. Elsewhere, fellow wireless carrier Bell proclaimed pre-orders for the new phone broke its previous records for BlackBerry pre-sales.

"We're seeing intense interest today -- sales are quite robust," spokesman Albert Lee said in an email.

But the company couldn't provide sales data for either the new phones or the previous models sold years ago. The secrecy around Bell's sales claims was for "competitive reasons," Lee said.

At Rogers, Mohamed said "thousands have registered for the device" through the telecom company's website, though he did not provide any specific figures.

Telus added: "We have seen a very positive response from our customers," while declining to provide figures.

Anecdotes from the U.K., where the phone launched last week, suggest the new BlackBerry is selling at a steady pace. Some stores have reported running out of the device, though it's unclear how many units the locations had received before their inventory dried up.

"It doesn't really tell us much," said Carl Howe, vice-president of consumer research at Yankee Group. "But I'm sure BlackBerry was cautious in how they stocked things."

The smoke-and-mirrors approach around a product launch has become almost expected by the cynical consumer, but it can also prove critical to a product's success and part of the marketing effort.

Howe suggests that in the case of the BlackBerry, it's necessary.

"They are undoubtedly worried and they don't want to create a bad first impression," said Howe.

"I think it's smart... I think it's exactly what they should be doing."

BlackBerry, once the dominant smartphone, is competing in a technology world that has undergone massive change over the past few years and not just in its hardware.

If a product doesn't blow the doors off early, then it's often considered a dud, especially with the Apple factor, which sets the bar of success at almost unattainable massive lineups and wildly enthusiastic customers.

BlackBerry was burned in 2011 when it failed to reach Apple's sales standard with the PlayBook tablet, a product that was fumbled at its launch and has never recovered.

The new BlackBerry is expected to sell for around $150 on a three-year contract. Koodo is selling it without a contract for $550.


-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2013 B5

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