BlackBerry To Broaden Smartphone Range

Michelle Maisto covers mobile devices, Android and Apple for eWEEK and is also a food writer.

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BlackBerry has revealed it is planning mid-tier and entry-level smartphones as it looks to tap into the huge market in developing countries

BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins continues to trickle out details of his company’s plans to regain smartphone market share from Apple and Android-running competitors. Heins told The Canadian Press that BlackBerry plans to offer three tiers of products: high end, mid-tier and entry level.

“In order to stay relevant, we have to build a portfolio,” Heins said, according to a 31 March report from The Globe and Mail.

Developing markets

The entry-level devices will run BlackBerry’s new BlackBerry 10 operating system and be designed for markets such as India and Indonesia – markets that, during the very long wait for BlackBerry 10’s launch, helped sustain the company as US subscriber numbers fell off.

With BlackBerry 10 and new smartphones that (unlike earlier BlackBerry handsets) address both enterprise and consumer desires, the company is working to win back US consumers, though clearly, it’s also aware of the need to keep courting them elsewhere as well.

Thorsten Heins RIM Blackberry leadA more diversified BlackBerry lineup suggests that BlackBerry, like Apple, is learning that one can’t rest on its laurels. It’s rumoured that Apple will release a less-expensive version of the iPhone this summer. In the most recent version of this rumour, Apple will introduce an iPhone 5S on 20 June, and will begin shipping the device in July.

Then, in August, Electronista reported on 28 March, Apple will show off a “‘low-cost’ version of the iPhone aimed at the larger prepaid market in developing countries such as China and India”. The new report is in line with Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster’s February forecast that Apple will debut an unlocked $199 (£130) iPhone during the third quarter.

“We believe a lower-priced iPhone will be a positive for [Apple] shares,” wrote Munster, adding that the phone “should accelerate gross profit growth, given the size of the low-end market (we estimate $135 billion in 2013).”

In a December 2012 research note, Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley said he also expects that Apple is working on an iPhone 5 refresh – the Electronista report similarly calls it a “polishing revision” of the iPhone 5 – along with a mid-tier-priced iPhone “for prepaid oriented international markets this summer”.

Unexpected profit

Even more than Apple, BlackBerry can’t afford to pass up the $135 billion market identified by Piper Jaffray.

BlackBerry posted an unexpected profit during its fiscal 2013 fourth quarter and shipped about 1 million of its new Z10 smartphones running BlackBerry 10, it announced on 28 March.

The phone went on sale in the United States on 28 March, though, well after the quarter closed on 2 March. Still, in working to appeal to consumers instead of enterprise users, the company expects to see service revenues decline.

During the earnings call, Heins said that BlackBerry will release another round of BlackBerry 7 devices, which are popular in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, Africa and parts of Europe, in addition to the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones.

“We’re building a full portfolio,” Heins said. “BlackBerry 10, from a technology perspective, is starting in the high end. We will bring it into the mid-tier by the middle of the fiscal year, and then we are working toward … what we can do in what we typically call the BlackBerry entry level. So, stay tuned on that one. There’s work going on there as well.”

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Originally published on eWeek.

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