BlackBerry Unveils New Smartphone Amid Minimal Fanfare

September 18, 2013 9:19 pm Last Updated: September 18, 2013 9:20 pm

TORONTO—BlackBerry has unveiled a new smartphone with a bigger screen that appears designed to attract users who want a midpoint device between a phone and tablet. 

But the launch, which took place Wednesday amid minimal fanfare, was largely overshadowed by the latest developments from BlackBerry’s competitors and reports that the company is planning to deliver another round of layoffs to its operations. 

It’s the latest setback for the Waterloo, Ont.-based company that has been trying to regain a position in the technology market even as consumers seem to be increasingly losing interest in the brand. 

Apple, Samsung, and other rivals continue to release new versions of their devices alongside a growing number of players in the tablet market. 

The new BlackBerry Z30 comes with a five-inch screen, improved battery life, and faster processor than the models released earlier this year, and is about the same size as its competitor, the Samsung Galaxy S4. 

The device is larger than most smartphones, but smaller than the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which the company recently stopped producing after two years. 

BlackBerry took a relatively low-key approach to promote the new device. The phone was announced at an event in Malaysia that even chief executive officer Thorsten Heins didn’t attend. 

MKM Partners analyst Mike Genovese said Malaysia is one of the few markets where BlackBerry has seen growth in recent years, and he expects that local consumers will value the larger screen more than in North America or Europe where alternatives abound. 

“It actually points out how limited this launch really is,” Genovese said in an interview from Connecticut. “I think that we’re going to quickly forget about this.” 

Even as the BlackBerry announcement was made, it was being overshadowed by early reviews for Apple’s new iPhones, which include fingerprint scanning technology and other new features. 

Also stealing attention was a report in the Wall Street Journal that said BlackBerry executives could lay off as much as 40 percent the company’s staff—which would equate to as many as 5,000 people—as it moves forward with a three-stage plan to return the company to profitability. 

“Organizational moves will continue to occur to ensure we have the right people in the right roles to drive new opportunities in mobile computing,” spokeswoman Rebecca Freiburger said in response to the layoff reports. 

She declined to directly address the reported number of potential layoffs. 

BlackBerry is in the midst of major changes within its own organization and recently formed a committee to consider strategic alternatives, which could include its sale. A reduction in staff would likely coincide with the company’s efforts to sell parts of its operations by making them more financially attractive to potential suitors. 

The BlackBerry Z30 will first arrive in the U.K. and Middle East next week, followed by availability at a number of Canadian carriers in the coming weeks, though specific dates haven’t been announced. 

With files from The Canadian Press