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No new BlackBerry phones for Japan

AFP-JIJI

Smartphone maker BlackBerry Ltd. has confirmed it has no plan at present to sell its new handsets in Japan, although it denied it is abandoning one of the world’s most tech-savvy nations.

Having fallen far behind Apple Inc. and lost ground to other smartphone producers such as South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co., BlackBerry recently launched two new devices — the Q10 and the Z10 — in a very public bid to revive its fortunes and gain market share.

The Canadian company has also changed its name from Research in Motion to the simpler BlackBerry as part of a relaunch that included the unveiling of a new operating system.

A spokesman at BlackBerry’s head office in Waterloo, Ontario, said Japanese customers would not be able to buy the new handsets, but insisted the decision did not amount to a snub.

“(It) does not affect our key priorities in the market: to continue to provide BlackBerry service and robust support to BlackBerry’s Japanese customers, both consumers and business users,” the spokesman said. “BlackBerry enjoys a constructive relationship with trusted partner, NTT DoCoMo (Inc.), and we will continue to support the carrier’s ongoing BlackBerry sales in Japan.”

The latest pair of smartphones — one with a touchscreen and the other with a keyboard — were unveiled at glitzy events in major cities, with the aim of heralding a global turnaround, but have so far only been rolled out in Britain and Canada.

The Nikkei business daily earlier reported that BlackBerry’s share of the Japanese market had slumped to 0.3 percent from about 5 percent in previous years, without providing a time frame. Domestic shipments of smartphones soared 40 percent year-on-year to an estimated 14 million in the April-September period, but BlackBerry sales are believed to have only come to several tens of thousands, the newspaper said, without naming its sources.

Given its falling market share, the company judged it too costly to develop a Japanese-language version of its new operating system, the report said.

While BlackBerry helped create a culture of mobile users glued to smartphones nearly a decade ago — dubbed “crackberry addicts” — many of those customers have since moved to Apple’s iPhone or Android-based devices.

The Wall Street Journal also cited a spokeswoman for BlackBerry who said the new model would not be rolled out “at this time” in Japan.

“We are in the process of launching BlackBerry 10 globally in key markets and we are seeing positive demand for the BlackBerry Z10 in countries where it has already launched,” spokeswoman Amy McDowell was quoted as saying. “Japan is not a major market for BlackBerry and we have no plans to launch BlackBerry 10 devices there at this time.”

NTT DoCoMo, the carrier who started distributing BlackBerry smartphones in the domestic market in 2006, said it is discussing new product launches with the company while noting it would continue customer support for existing users.