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Is BlackBerry taking a page from Apple’s marketing playbook with Passport?

People line up for the iPhone 4 outside Vancouver’s Pacific Centre Mall.

In the nearly one-year period that John Chen has been CEO at BlackBerry he has proved a more than competent operator. But is he also a cagey strategist?

Chen recently had to deal with something that a BlackBerry boss has not had to manage for a long time: a product shortage. The BlackBerry Passport, albeit it on a much smaller scale than the company had grown used to in its halcyon days, is a hit.

The Passport sold out in six hours on BlackBerry’s website and soon after on Amazon. The device pre-sold 200,000 units in the first two days. Of course that’s a fraction of the 10-million iPhone 6’s and 6 Plus’s that Apple sold in its first weekend, but it’s a number BlackBerry will take in its fight to be relevant once again.

Chen told Bloomberg the issue was a positive sign.

“I’m glad to have inventory issues. It shows that people want the phone,” he said. “We took a very conservative approach and didn’t order too many.”

It’s probable that Chen’s explanation is true, especially given the reception to BlackBerry Q10 and Z10 launch. But it’s at least as likely that Chen, unlike his predecessor Thorsten Heins, knows the value of a lineup.

Apple is famous for its complex and sophisticated inventory management system, but the company has always basked in the free publicity of a lineup around its stores on launch day. CEO Tim Cook has been called out for the seeming incongruity of these two facts. As far back as 2010 analysts were wondering why Apple product launches always played out the same.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster posed the question directly to Cook, who was then COO. Was the company was intentionally running out of product?

“We do not purposely create a shortage for buzz,” replied Cook, who offered that the company was simply “caught offguard” by the demand.

So did BlackBerry intentionally limit supply of the Passport? Canaccord Genuity analyst Mike Walkley thinks that, perhaps unlike Cook, Chen was legitimately caught offguard.

“I think BlackBerry overestimated demand so much for the BB10 devices that they have very conservative estimates for new devices going forward,” he told eWeek recently. “The company is still working through some BB10 devices in the channel from more than 6 months ago. Also, to conserve cash flow and meet year-end cash flow break even targets, BlackBerry has taken a more cautious stance on building new inventory for devices.”

With the upcoming launch of the BlackBerry Classic, a phone that combines some of the things BlackBerry loyalists were missing with the company’s new operating system, it will be interesting to watch the demand and supply dynamic, and if Chen has come to appreciate the marketing dollars he isn’t spending by nurturing a little free buzz.

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.
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  1. The Passport is actually a Thorsten Heins device. Chen even says so during the launch of the passport. People should realize that devices can take 1-2 years to develop and bring to market. Heins gets a bad rap but he was given a tough set of cards to play with.

  2. He sold nothing. It’s a bullshit marketing 100%. He talk, you talk, they talk about 200.000 units sold from “one year ago” but in fact it’s nothing. He’s very scared for that he has nothing to say about how many “millions” of units he sold. It’s very easy to cover himself at the balance of the 4 quarter when he has to told at the world how many he sold because he never said ” I sold one million or half million”. He said ” I’am happy, there is no more phones for sale, hi, hi, hi, ha, ha, ha”, but in fact he bought himself the 200.000 units and hi put 30 for sale in Malaezia, 55 in India etc and all its sold out. Hi, hi, hi, ha, ha, ha. That’s the over sold new marketing dictionary definition. When people listen he’s story, all became very courrios about that and that’s a very good weapon if you know to manage. He learn from Apple.

  3. Only if ignorant !doits like you had some Common Sense then the World would have been a much better place. Just don´t vomit any c r a p that is there inside your empty and f i l t h y brain, ok? Do some research before vomiting, ok!!

  4. You really scare me. hi, hi, hi, ha, ha,ha. People like you make millionaires. 8.65$ . I imagine you at this score you start to cry:-) hi, hi, hi, ha, ha, ha.

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