BlackBerry 10 to hit key US market Friday

The operating system faces one of its biggest days since its launch

BlackBerry's new operating system faces its first big test in the U.S. Friday when the first phone based on BlackBerry 10 goes on sale.

The U.S. launch comes more than a month after the phone, called the Z10, went on sale in the U.K. Jan. 31. The U.S. is one of BlackBerry's biggest markets, especially for enterprise customers, so its reception in the country will be closely watched.

The Z10 has a 4.2-inch touchscreen that dominates the front of the phone. With a minimum of buttons around the edges, it's very different from a lot of BlackBerry phones of the past that often sported physical keyboards. A version with a keyboard, called the Q10, is due, but BlackBerry 10 first arrives in the U.S. in this touchscreen-only form.

Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless, the two biggest cellular carriers in the U.S., are promoting the handset on the home pages of their websites. The phone costs US$600 at Verizon and $550 at AT&T. Both carriers are also offering it for $200 with a two-year contract.

Great apps and content will be key to the phone's success and a lot of new content has been added to the U.S. version of the BlackBerry World app store since the phone was unveiled in late January.

On Wednesday the company added apps for Delta Air Lines, Al Jazeera English and The Times, and it followed those on Thursday with Amazon Kindle, OpenTable and The Wall Street Journal. A large catalog of music and movies has also been added to the store in preparation for the U.S. launch, but some key apps are still missing.

BlackBerry says "the coming weeks" will see some of them appear, including CNN, The Daily Show Headlines, eBay, Rdio and Skype.

Reception of the phone outside of the U.S. has been hard to gauge.

Soon after it went on sale, BlackBerry proclaimed great sales, saying the U.K. launch was "close to three times our best performance ever for the first week of sales for a BlackBerry smartphone," and the Canadian launch resulted in "the best day ever for the first day of a launch of a new BlackBerry smartphone."

But such statements are deliberately vague. Without meaningful sales data, the actual initial success of the BlackBerry 10 operating system and Z10 is still something of a guessing game.

BlackBerry won't have the same amount of wiggle room next week when the company announces its financial performance for the December-to-February quarter. While Friday's U.S. launch falls outside of that period, it does include the first month of BlackBerry 10 sales in many other markets.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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