BlackBerry steps up fightback with Indonesian phone

BlackBerry steps up fightback with Indonesian phone
Above: BlackBerry Z3

JAKARTA - BlackBerry will this week launch a new budget handset in Indonesia, one of its last bastions, a major step in the ailing smartphone maker's fightback against titans Samsung and Apple.

The Z3, which is designed for Indonesia but will likely be introduced in other emerging markets later, is the first new BlackBerry phone since chief executive John Chen took the helm of the crisis-hit company in November.

The handset is also the first to be produced from the Canadian firm's partnership with Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn, which makes gadgets for Apple, and is a key test of whether the new strategy will work.

The company believes the device will be a hit in Indonesia, where many have remained loyal to BlackBerry, with a spokesman saying that "this product will deliver something that should resonate with consumers".

But analysts believe it may already be too late for a comeback by the company that pioneered modern smartphone culture but has been unable to keep up with competition from Apple's iPhone and handsets using the Google Android operating system.

Recent years have been dismal for BlackBerry, and it has suffered heavy losses and slashed thousands of jobs.

The company even put itself up for sale last year but abandoned hopes of finding a buyer several months later, and ousted chief executive Thorsten Heins.

Since Chen took over, there have been small signs of improvement. The company reported a loss of US$423 million in the three months to March 1, which was not as bad as had been feared.

As part of its turnaround strategy, the smartphone maker announced the tie-up with Foxconn in December, which involves transferring to the Taiwan company manufacturing and inventory management, while allowing BlackBerry to focus on software and services.

BlackBerry has chosen to launch its first new phone from the partnership in Indonesia, Southeast Asia's biggest economy with legions of social media-mad young consumers, where its devices remain popular but it has nevertheless lost ground in recent years.

Low retail price

The phone has a five inch (13 centimetre) touchscreen, like most of BlackBerry's newest handsets which do not have the physical keyboards of the older devices.

It is designed specifically with Indonesian consumers in mind. The BBM messaging service - wildly popular in Indonesia - comes loaded with pictures of local cartoon characters for users to send to one another.

There is also a limited edition with "Jakarta" engraved on it. BlackBerry believes the low price - it will retail for around US$200 - will be a particular selling point.

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