BlackBerry Unveils Low-Cost Smartphone With Indonesia in Mind

(By Joe Cochrane)

The smartphone maker BlackBerry unveiled a new model on Tuesday that it has hopes of bringing to emerging markets in Asia and South America.

The phone, the BlackBerry Z3, will at first be available exclusively for Indonesia, one of its largest markets. John S. Chen, the chief executive of the struggling company, said it was a step toward one of the biggest parts of his job: to make the BlackBerry brand cool again.

“BlackBerry has new technology and is financially stable,” he said on Tuesday after an event here to announce the new phone. “I think that’s got to be the first step — to explain that.”

“When people have no concerns about BlackBerry the company,” he added, “then the product will be cool again.”

BlackBerry has struggled in recent years, as its business in the crucial American market collapsed. The company posted a loss of $5.9 billion for its last fiscal year.

In 2012, Thorsten Heins was appointed chief executive with a mandate to turn the company around. He left late last year as takeover bid for BlackBerry fell apart. Mr. Chen took the reins and said this year that he planned to focus on the company’s smaller software and services business, though he added that BlackBerry would still sell phones.

Mr. Chen denied that the low-cost Z3 touch-screen model was a last-ditch effort to remain relevant in the industry.

“If this device allows them to grow again, even if it’s just small, steady growth, that’s a success in itself,” said Ryan Lai, a market analyst at the consulting firm IDC, Reuters reported. “That says there is still room for BlackBerry in Indonesia.”

BlackBerry produced the Z3 in partnership with the Foxconn Technology Group of Taiwan. Mr. Chen said that the partnership with Foxconn, which manufactures the Z3, had given BlackBerry the ability to compete in emerging markets, and that, if sales went well, “it could be a sign of things to come.”

For its part, Foxconn is considering investing at least $1 billion in Indonesia to build manufacturing plants that would produce smartphones and other electronic devices.

BlackBerry plans to sell the Z3 in six other Asian markets, including India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, and is hoping for unit sales “in the millions” across the region.

In Indonesia, the phone will retail for 2.2 million rupiah, or about $190. The words “Jakarta Edition” will be engraved on the backs of a limited run of 25,000 units.

The Z3 Jakarta Edition will go on sale in the capital on Thursday through authorized sellers, and as on many debut days for new phone models, lines are expected to be long.

The phone has several special applications for Indonesian users, including local banking and travel services, and, in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, a directory of halal food. The Z3 operates in the Indonesian national language as well as many regional dialects, including Javanese.

(Source: NYTimes)

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