TORONTO - A decision to forgo the latest BlackBerry smartphone has wireless carrier Rogers defending itself against claims that it's abandoning a longtime relationship with the struggling Canadian company.
Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B), one of the country's largest wireless carriers, faced an unexpected backlash on Thursday after what it called a "routine decision" to exclude the new BlackBerry Z30 touchscreen model from its lineup.
Social media and message boards were flooded with comments from some customers who said they would consider cancelling their services with Rogers in protest.
Rogers president Rob Bruce said he was surprised and perplexed by the reaction, but that the company wouldn't change its decision.
"Part of our success is choosing a portfolio of devices that's a winning portfolio for our customers," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
"This is exactly the kind of decision that this was," Bruce said, adding that the choice had been made several months ago.
The reaction followed an announcement from BlackBerry (TSX:BB) on the release date of its Z30 touchscreen model, which is roughly the size of a Samsung Galaxy 4.
The list of wireless companies who would stock the device didn't include Rogers, which was an early adopter of BlackBerry products.
Rogers played a key role in the BlackBerry launch and hosted the Canadian debut of the new generation of phones at its headquarters in February, with BlackBerry chief executive Thorsten Heins and Rogers head Nadir Mohamed posing for photos together.
The company's decision to skip the new model quickly spread to Twitter and message boards where some customers vented their displeasure.
"Is it time to leave Rogers?" asked a user with the Twitter name (at)M_L_Titan.
"Shame on you Rogers for not carrying BlackBerry 's new Z30!" wrote (at)t_reaker.
Other users found it more concerning for BlackBerry to lose one of its most enthusiastic supporters while trying to turn around its money-losing operations.
Rogers typically carries a selection of about 20 devices at its larger retail stores, Bruce said. The slate already includes BlackBerry's Z10 touchscreen phone, the Q10 keyboard version and a lower priced Q5 model.
"This is not the first time that our competitors have carried a device and we've chosen not to," he said.
BlackBerry says the BlackBerry Z30 will be stocked by other Canadian carriers such as Bell (TSX:BCE) and Telus (TSX:T) as well as retailers such as Best Buy and Future Shop. The phone will become available in Canada on Oct. 15, and prices will be set by the retailers.
The new BlackBerry Z30 was launched in Malaysia in September with little fanfare, shortly before the company announced it would lose nearly $1 billion in the second quarter as it wrote down the value of unsold smartphones and prepared to cut about 4,500 jobs, or 40 per cent of its global workforce.
The Z30 comes with a five-inch screen, improved battery life and faster processor than the models released earlier this year. It's larger than most smartphones, but smaller than the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which the company recently stopped producing after two years.
Earlier this week, BlackBerry filed documents with regulators which showed that sales of its new Blackberry 10 devices have been faltering. The company also said that the launch of its recent strategic review process "may have negatively impacted demand for the company's products" in its most recent quarter.
A potential takeover of BlackBerry has heightened attention on what will happen to the company, with Fairfax Financial (TSX:FFX), BlackBerry's biggest shareholder, emerging last week with a preliminary US$4.7-billion takeover offer.
BlackBerry shares were down 30 cents to close at $7.97 on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday.
RIM Inter@ctive Pager 950 (1998)
The RIM Inter@ctive Pager 950 was one of the first true BlackBerry devices. Released in 1998 it looks more like a large pager - because that's exactly what it was. But it could also handle messages up to 16,000 characters, and came with an Intel 386 processor - which was pretty good at the time. Oh, and it ran for almost a month on a single AA batter. Take that, iPhone. It cost $350 at launch.
RIM 957 Wireless Handheld (2000)
The RIM 957 Wireless Handheld was introduced in April 2000, and was described as a "breakthrough palm sized wireless handheld". It gave users access to the Internet, email, pager and organiser functions, with a 32 bit Intel 386 processor and 5MB of flash memory. It was the first device to offer 'always on" performance, and sold for about $500.
BlackBerry 5810 (2002)
The first true 'BlackBerry' was the 5810 - and it was also the first to include Voice Calls. That's right - the earlier devices weren't even phones, making this the first truly integrated phone-organiser-email-thingy. It was expensive - $749 - but could do just about most of the same things a basic smartphone can do today.
One of the most famous - even iconic - BlackBerry devices ever was the classic blue Blackberry 7230, which came with a 65k colour screen instead of the old monochrome versi0on, as well as 16MB of storage and a battery with up to 240 hours of stand-by. It sold for about $400 at the time, and featured a full QWERTY keyboard.
The BlackBerry 7100 series featured the company's first models without a full keyboard, instead opting for the T9 'SureType' system familiar from other mobiles. The phones were popular with the mass-market as they looked and were sized similar to normal phones,. They were marketed to consumers for about $200.
BlackBerry 8700 (2005)
The BlackBerry 8700 was the first of its handhelds to use high-speed internet via EDGE. It offered much faster browsing and came with a QVGA 320 by 240-pixels screen, as well as Bluetooth support and 64mb of Flash memory.
BlackBerry Pearl (2006)
The Pearl was at the time the smallest BlackBerry ever released. It weighed just over 3 pounds and cost just $200 with a two-year contract. It was the first BlackBerry to come with a camera and a microSD slot.
BlackBerry Curve (2007)
The BlackBerry Curve 8300 came with a camera, a 3.5 headphone jack and a full QWERTY keyboard. It was pretty cheap - $200 on contract - but looked more like a high-end professional device.
BlackBerry Bold (2008)
The BlackBerry Bold is in some ways the ultimate BlackBerry - sleek, dark, with a full QWERTY keyboard and support for 3G networks, 1GB of memory and a higher-resolution display, it pretty much opitimises what the BlackBerry was all about.
BlackBerry Storm (2008)
The Storm was BlackBerry's first phone without a keyboard, and it launched to mixed reviews. It was clear that RIM's software wasn't able to keep up with the current crop of devices, and that BlackBerry needed a relaunch. That wouldn't happen until 2013.
BlackBerry Torch (2010)
The BlackBerry torch was pitched as the first "elite" consumer offering from RIM. It's slider form factor, full keyboard and touchscreen placed it as the mid point between and iPhone and an old school Blackberry, but for reviewers it wasn't able to do either job well and it failed to gain much attention.