A new BlackBerry smartphone has just been announced and it promises things no previous BlackBerry has had, such as 5G connectivity. The new phone comes from a Texas-based company called OnwardMobility (no, I hadn’t heard of it either) which has reached agreements with BlackBerry and a subsidiary of Foxconn called FIH Mobile.
BlackBerry went from being an incredible success and then disappearing, only having a revival when Chinese company TCL produced a series of phones with the familiar name on it. TCL threw in the towel recently and it looked like the brand had gone for good. Now, OnwardMobility says it will released a new BlackBerry in the first half of 2021 in North America and Europe.
BlackBerry’s rise was a curious one. First, it was embraced by businesspeople who wanted access to their emails all the time – this was way before it was possible on regular phones. But it also had a second group of fans: kids. This was down to BlackBerry Messenger, a messaging service between BlackBerry handsets which sent and received messages for free.
So, instead of texts on regular phones which came with a cost, students and young people started adopting the BlackBerry in huge numbers. Some BlackBerry fans I’ve met boasted that because the physical QWERTY keyboard was usable even by touch typing, they could tap out a message with the phone under their desk, seeming to focus on their teacher at the same time so that nobody was any the wiser.
You can see that satisfying those two segments of the market required complicated thinking and it was ultimately too much to cope with, perhaps.
And, of course, in 2007 the iPhone arrived and changed everything. BlackBerry didn’t give up and created its own new operating system to compete with iOS and Android. Which was when the wheels really came off, I’d say.
The new system had its strengths but of course it lacked the huge numbers of apps of its rivals. Then, BlackBerry moved to Android and handsets made by TCL.
So, why does any of this matter? After all, we’ve seen the brand rise and fall before.
Well, the new company has already confirmed that it will focus on the main aspect one associates with BlackBerry: security. Clearly, enterprise customers will be the main focus. It can be hard to stand out for this, now that the iPhone security is considered outstanding and other companies have their own solutions, such as Samsung’s Knox features on its Android phones. And this was the focus last time around for TCL as well.
Perhaps it’ll be down to the design. After all, Peter Franklin, CEO of OnwardMobility said, “Consumers are looking for a more secure choice for their smartphone purchases and they’re ready for a sleek device built around security and productivity from the ground up.”
Ben Wood from CCS Insight, and perhaps the best-informed man on the planet when it comes to phones, said, “BlackBerry used to have three key differentiators: battery life, security and a physical qwerty keyboard. These days most Android phone makers deliver similar battery life, security has improved dramatically on Android and Apple’s iOS, which only leaves the keyboard. However, even that is going to be a hard sell given most users are now comfortable typing on a touch screen and the trade off in terms of screen real-estate in a world when it’s all about the content on the display is a big one when you have to add a physical keyboard.”
That’s true, but there’s something special about the BlackBerry keyboard, so let’s hope they don’t mess with it too much. I know several execs who swear by it, claiming they can type much faster on the physical QWERTY than on any unyielding glass screen.
Of course, “several” may not be enough to make the phone take flight again, but it’s going to be interesting to see what happens.
There’s no issue with apps as this will be an Android phone, and if it can make a distinctive play for security, then it has a chance. The design will be crucial (sleek is a good first step), as will hitting the right price. And, above all, that keyboard has to be as good as we remember it was.