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.