BlackBerry Returns To Profits, Sells 1 Million Z10 Smartphones

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BlackBerry announced a surprise profit for its fourth quarter, while disclosing that co-founder Mike Lazaridis is to leave the company

BlackBerry surprised analysts by posting a profit for the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2013, which closed on 2 March, a few weeks after the long-awaited launch of its BlackBerry 10 mobile platform and BlackBerry Z10 smartphone.

“To say it was a challenging environment to deliver improved results in could be the understatement of the year,” chief executive Thorsten Heins said during a 28 March morning earnings call.

New platform

The company has been counting on the new platform to strengthen its ailing brand and support it over the next decade as it evolves from a smartphone company into what company officials call a “mobile computing leader”.

Heins has offered vague assurances of the last few weeks that the Z10 is selling well, but during the call, he said that 6 million BlackBerry smartphones shipped during the quarter, about 1 million of which were Z10 units.

BlackBerry Z10 TallMore importantly, Heins said that 55 percent of the global customers who purchased a Z10 had switched from another platform – a “strong testament to the strength of the product”.

While BlackBerry finished its quarter in the black, its full-year 2013 ended in the red, and it additionally posted a loss of 3 million customers, who Heins said were mostly from its prepaid segment. BlackBerry’s base is now down to 76 million subscribers.

The chief executive spent the first minutes of the call not celebrating the quarter’s accomplishments but relating details such as changes to its executive structure and to its board of directors and investments in its application ecosystem. These changes, however, along with what’s expected to be growing device sales, make the company feel confident that it will at least break even next quarter.

Heins repeated throughout the call that these are still “early days” for BlackBerry 10 and the Z10. The device has been available in the United States for less than a week – AT&T and Best Buy began selling it on 22 March, and T-Mobile began offering it on 26 March. Verizon Wireless began selling it on 28 March.

QWERTY handset

BlackBerry will also begin selling a QWERTY keyboard-equipped Q10 smartphone in April, which is also likely to help sales. Heins said it’s currently testing with 40 carriers in 20 countries.

“Certainly, enterprises are extremely hot on getting the Q10,” Heins said.

“There are some die-hard keyboard lovers out there.” Analyst Jack Gold, a principal with J. Gold Associates, said that given the industry’s expectations, BlackBerry did “quite well”. Though the loss of subscribers was “troubling”, he added in a 28 March research note, BlackBerry, in fairness, didn’t have new devices available to keep them from leaving.

“It’s the next one to two quarters that will really tell the story of how well the devices are being received in the US,” said Gold, adding that BlackBerry’s noted commitment to increasing its marketing should help. “They have to build some excitement to get people interested,” he added.

Platform switchers

Gold also noted that while the 55 percent of Z10 buyers who switched platforms is “encouraging,” the company didn’t say whether that was “for users of other smartphones or for upgrades from feature phones”.

The company also shared during the call that Mike Lazaridis, a co-founder of Research In Motion, the inventor of the BlackBerry and one of the longtime chief executives whom Heins replaced, is retiring as vice president and a board director of the company to pursue the launch of Quantum Valley Investments, a new venture Lazaridis announced last week.

Heins said Lazaridis is “widely recognised as one of Canada’s greatest innovators”. He added, “We deeply respect and appreciate Mike’s desire to devote his full-time efforts to his exciting new venture, and we wish him all the best.”

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Originally published on eWeek.

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