AT&T on Monday confirmed that it will begin selling the BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen smartphone on March 22 for $199.99 with a two-year contract.
Users will be able to start placing online orders on AT&T's website on Tuesday. The Z10 will be the first BlackBerry phone that will work on AT&T's LTE network, which now serves 288 million people in the U.S.
AT&T said it will also support the BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) 10 mobile device management system, allowing BlackBerry 10 smartphones such as the Z10 to have firewall-protected security features, such as BlackBerry Balance technology, which makes it possible to set up separate spaces for work and personal data on a device.
In AT&T's official announcement, Jeff Bradley, the carrier's senior vice president of devices, called attention to innovations in the BlackBerry 10 operating system, including an easy-to-use touchscreen. "Customers who have grown to love the tried-and-true BlackBerry experience will continue to enjoy the easy typing and [security] they expect with a fresh platform that lets them get more out of their smartphone with easy access to all their messages in BlackBerry Hub," he said.
The Z10 went on sale in February in the U.K. and Canada; Canadian carriers charged $149 for the phone, but with a three-year contract. AT&T's $200 price tag under contract puts the Z10 at the high end of subsidized U.S. smartphones. There have been some smartphones that have initially cost $250 with a contract, but the prices of those devices have typically gone down within six months after they were released.
"Lots of other smartphones sell for $49 or $100 under contract, so there's going to be a lot of price comparing going on," said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC.
The Z10 got generally favorable reviews when it was first announced, although a prominent British analyst quickly reduced sales estimates for the device after it had been on sale in the U.K. for a few weeks.
Some U.S. analysts are unsure how U.S. corporations will judge the Z10. AT&T and BlackBerry have focused on positioning the Z10 as a radical departure from previous BlackBerry devices, whose share of the global smartphone market has slipped to less than 5%.
"I have heard a lot of people say they are taking a wait-and-see approach, saying let's not be the first to get it and see what the experience for the first adopters is," Llamas said. "That follows the pattern of other new devices, including the first iPhone."
Some CIOs told Computerworld that features like BlackBerry Balance and BES 10 won't matter if employees at companies with bring-your-own-device programs don't buy the Z10 or its Q10 cousin, which features a qwerty keyboard.
Sprint has said it will carry the Q10, but not the Z10, even though BlackBerry officials originally said all four major U.S. carriers would offer the Z10 by mid-March. Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile USA have not announced launch dates or pricing for the new BlackBerries. AT&T did not say whether it will carry the Q10.
Llamas said the fate of the Z10 in the U.S. is hard to predict, since BlackBerry hasn't revealed its marketing strategy for the device. The U.S. market is considered vitally important to BlackBerry.
Llamas said there is a chance that the Z10 could be a "wildfire success or could struggle" depending on how marketing goes.
"Here it is already mid-March, and the only marketing of the Z10 was the BlackBerry 10 Super Bowl ad that didn't win over a lot of people," Llamas said. "My hope is that BlackBerry is going to pour it on, marketing the new user interface and highlighting features such as peek and flow. BlackBerry has probably trained the carriers' salespeople well. I cannot anticipate that BlackBerry will release the Z10 with minimal marketing."
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.