BlackBerry says BB10 breaks its own sales records, but no hard numbers yet

TORONTO – BlackBerry says it is smashing its own sales records with the launch of its new smartphones, but just how many devices it has sold is still a secret.

The Waterloo, Ont.-based company issued an enthusiastic statement on Wednesday which said the BlackBerry Z10 had the “best day ever for the first day of a launch.”

“In fact, it was more than 50 per cent better than any other launch day in our history in Canada,” said president and CEO Thorsten Heins.

But the company declined (TSX:BB) to say how many units actually landed in customers’ hands across the country.

A separate statement from carrier Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) says it activated “thousands” of BlackBerry Z10s on its first day, while some stores have temporarily run out of the devices.

A Rogers spokeswoman did not respond to calls seeking details on how many phones were stocked at the stores which sold out.

Determining whether the BlackBerry launch in Canada was a success out of the gate has proven difficult, though reviews for the device have been mostly favourable.

In the U.K., sales for the first week were “close to three times our best performance,” BlackBerry said, though it would not disclose tallies for previous BlackBerry launches in the region.

Fellow carrier Bell has also reported that early interest in the device has been solid. Preorders for the new BlackBerry broke records held by an earlier model of the smartphone, Bell said on Tuesday after the launch, but it also wouldn’t say where the bar was set.

Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley reflected on those previous BlackBerry launches as he weighed the comments from both the smartphone maker and its carriers.

“I don’t remember lines out the doors,” he said in an interview from Minneapolis.

“The smartphone market was a lot smaller back then. It’s hard to put any context around it.”

But Walkley, who has a “sell” rating on the BlackBerry stock with a US$9 price target, said he isn’t expecting blockbuster numbers anywhere near millions of units.

“We’re talking five- to ten-thousand units that have maybe sold so far,” he estimated using his own anecdotal research, which involved calls to UK retailers.

The launch of the BlackBerry Z10 was the most hyped unveiling of a smartphone from the company, which almost guarantees it made a stronger sales debut than its predecessors. But official sales numbers for the devices could still be weeks away.

BlackBerry will report its fourth-quarter results on March 28.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Mark Sue reported that checks to 40 Rogers, Bell, Telus and Wireless Wave stores in Canada found that several stores were sold out of the BlackBerry Z10, but that stores received a limited number of the phones.

In a note, he said some stores received deliveries of only five to 10 phones and about 20 to 30 additional phones for customers who preordered the device.

A successful rollout of the new devices is considered crucial for the company, which has lost significant market share to Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S3.

Perception of a successful launch in Canada will also influence the touchscreen release in the United States next month, Heins said earlier this week. The CEO also suggested that the stateside release of the physical keyboard version could be one or two months later than other parts of the world.

While the exact release date will depend on each wireless provider, Heins said the physical keyboard version, the BlackBerry Q10, will likely come out eight to 10 weeks after a carrier releases the touchscreen model.

The Z10 is expected in the U.S. in mid-March, so eight to 10 weeks brings the U.S. date for the Q10 to mid-May to early June.

“We’re trying to get it as close as we can,” Heins said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Heins said it was up to the carriers to do the necessary testing and to decide whether they could shorten the process. He said eight to 10 weeks after the Z10 launch was “a good range” of what to expect.

Such a delay would further complicate RIM’s efforts to hang on to U.S. customers tempted by Apple’s trend-setting iPhone and a range of devices running Google’s Android operating system.

Even as the BlackBerry has fallen behind rivals in recent years, many BlackBerry users have stayed loyal so far specifically because they prefer a physical keyboard over the touch screen found on the iPhone and most Android devices.

Shares of BlackBerry closed up four cents to $15.98 on the Toronto Stock Exchange in trading of nearly 13 million shares.

— with files from The Associated Press