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The BlackBerry curse is alive and well

Chinese phone maker TCL started selling BlackBerrys this year -- and its US market share is sinking. Motorola, on the other hand, is making a comeback.


The BlackBerry KeyOne didn't help TCL with sales. 


The last few years saw BlackBerry phones slide into irrelevancy as consumers opted for flashier offerings from Apple or Samsung

Some things never change. 

TCL, a Chinese company best known for cheap televisions, as well as budget phones under its Alcatel brand, earlier this year took on the ambitious project of reviving the BlackBerry brand. The result: The company saw its market share fall in the third quarter. 

One beneficiary of this decline was Motorola, which jumped into the top five for the first time since 2015, according to a report by market research firm Strategy Analytics (account required). 

The shifts underscore the finicky nature of the US phone business when it comes to midtier and lower-end phones. Apple and Samsung dominate the premium market with iPhones and Galaxy S devices, which have a lock on the No. 1 and 2 positions, respectively. But there's a dogfight below as consumers hunt for the best bargains and phone makers try to pack in the best components and features for the lowest price. 

TCL, which had some momentum last year, was poised to have a strong 2017 with the addition of BlackBerry to its portfolio. The company launched its first BlackBerry phone, the KeyOne, in February at a splashy event in Barcelona at the Mobile World Congress trade show. Showing it was committed to the brand, it followed up with the all-touchscreen BlackBerry Motion in October. 

They haven't caused much of a stir. It didn't help that the KeyOne had a tendency for its screen to pop off.

TCL fell out of the top five in the third quarter, replaced by a surging Motorola. A unit of Chinese consumer electronics giant Lenovo, Motorola has made headway after years of struggle. 

"Motorola's recovery has been driven by expanded distribution with all top four US carriers, selling popular new models such as Moto Z2 Play," said Ken Hyers, an analyst at Strategy Analytics. 

A TCL spokesman declined to comment on the sales estimates, but noted that customer response and volumes have exceeded "our high expectations."

Rudi Kalil, vice president of Motorola's North America business, said he was pleased to return to the top five. 

Samsung, LG and ZTE all saw increases in sales and market share in the third quarter. Apple remained on top despite seeing both its sales and market share slip.

Overall, smartphone shipments fell by 2 percent from a year ago in the third quarter, according to Strategy Analytics. 

The story originally ran at 6:05 a.m. PT.

Update at 10:51 a.m. PT: Adds responses from the companies. 

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