Much awaited new Blackberry smartphone arrives at Canadian retailers

TORONTO – Canadians who have clung to their aging BlackBerrys finally have an upgrade.

The company behind the once-dominant smartphone made its new touchscreen device — the BlackBerry Z10 — available in stores across the country.

In contrast to some of Apple’s product launches, the mood outside key Toronto stores was subdued.

There was no lineup at the Rogers store that was the site of the iPhone’s launch in Canada and it was similarly quiet at Rogers headquarters, where chief executive Thorsten Heins met with the telecom carrier’s CEO for a staged event.

The launch comes after several delays left some longtime BlackBerry fans sticking with their older phones or switching to a competitor’s phone.

Some analysts have been concerned that BlackBerry’s launch came too late to recover the lustre of its name.

But anecdotes from the U.K., where the phone launched last week, suggest the new BlackBerry is selling at a steady pace.

BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins told the BNN business television channel Tuesday that early sales in the United Kingdom and pre-registration results in Canada are encouraging.

“I don’t have the firm number yet but we also see people migrating from other platforms back to BlackBerry. I think this is a very important snippet. We need to verify that data, but if we can achieve that I think we’ve achieved a lot.”

Heins said the BlackBerry’s launch into the United States, the company’s biggest customer base by far, is coming later because of the extensive testing required by the U.S. carriers and the regulatory process.

“I’d love to be earlier. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not happy with it, but at the moment it is what it is. What we have said is we’re shipping in the first quarter of 2013, and that’s what we’re doing,” Heins said.

Fans of the phone’s physical keyboard will have to wait awhile longer — the new keypad version of the device won’t launch until sometime in April.

The Z10 is expected to typically sell for $150 on a three-year contract. Koodo is selling it without a contract for $550.

While the physical keyboard has long been an essential and beloved tool of so-called CrackBerry addicts, the move to release the touchscreen first was signalled by the company last spring.

The revamped models, which are powered by a whole new operating system, are widely seen as a make-or-break product for the company. After two major delays some in the technology sector had grown skeptical over whether the former Research In Motion (TSX:BB) would survive long enough in its current form to get the phones to the market.

The BlackBerry 10 devices were originally due for release last year but chief executive Thorsten Heins decided they still weren’t ready for the public, even though they had already been delayed once before.

It was one of the difficult decisions the CEO had to make when he took over the top position last January from then co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis. He also dug deep into the company’s operations to cut costs, which included closing manufacturing facilities and making thousands of job cuts.

After years of dominating the smartphone industry, RIM had become a punching bag for its competitors. Apple’s iPhone and numerous Android devices have stolen away a significant portion of the BlackBerry company’s marketshare in North America and Europe with flashier touchscreen devices.