John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Who Bought One Million BlackBerry 10 Devices?

When BlackBerry announced the largest single handset purchase in the company’s history earlier this week — one million BlackBerry 10 devices — it refused to name the “established partner” to which they’d been sold. “We are bound by confidentiality,” BlackBerry spokesman Adam Emery told AllThingsD when asked who the mystery customer might be.

At the time the announcement was made, speculation was that the “established partner” was most likely a carrier. And since it occured the same week that AT&T and Verizon both began taking preorders for the BlackBerry Z10, some assumed that one of them was responsible for that one-million-device order.

That’s an easy explanation. But it’s probably not an accurate one. And the reason is quite simple: Carriers like Verizon and AT&T are far too cautious to place an order of this size. Buy one million smartphones on a new, unproven platform? Up front? Unlikely.

Wedge Partners analyst Brian Blair agrees: “We don’t believe any carriers would take that much risk out of the gate without some indications of demand.”

So, then, who’s the mystery partner? That’s still an open question, though Blair suggests that its most obvious answer is a big electronics distributor. “It would be easier for a distributor, particularly a global one, to commit to a million units over an extended period and across numerous devices,” he said.

It certainly would. Brightpoint, for example, is one of the largest of the large wireless device distributors. And it has a long-standing relationship with BlackBerry, distributing its handsets throughout the world — particularly in emerging markets like Malaysia. Could the “established partner” BlackBerry refers to be Brightpoint?

That’s a theory that makes a lot of sense, particularly given the lack of detail in BlackBerry’s spartan announcement. If the company had sold one million Z10s, you can be damn sure it would be crowing about it in the press. But it’s not. It’s talking up “BlackBerry 10 devices.” So the partner has likely purchased one million handsets across the BlackBerry 10 portfolio — the Z10, the Q10 and a handful of additional smartphones that the company has promised to deliver this year. And if that’s the case, then this is an order that may well be fulfilled over several quarters. Again, the utter absence of specificity in BlackBerry’s announcement offers nothing with which to rule out these possibilities.

In other words, what we may have here is a big headline that’s perhaps not quite as big as it has been made out to be. Which is not to say that it’s not great news for BlackBerry. A one-million-smartphone purchase is impressive — a feather in the company’s cap. But there’s a lot more work to be done here. BlackBerry’s comeback hinges not just on convincing existing customers to stick with its new platform, but on proving itself a viable alternative to the mobile customers who have jumped ship for iOS and Android devices.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald