No, BlackBerry is not dead. Its new phone is coming soon
BlackBerry has come a long way from selling cool little two-way pagers with a keyboard (the 850) to actual phones with a one of their kind trackball interface (the 8100) to phones that run Android (the Priv) now. I will, although, remember it more for its QWERTY keyboards, its touch-based phones like the Z3 weren’t too bad either.
Over the years, BlackBerry has seen its ups and downs, like any other tech company. Even though, it has been mostly downs — for BlackBerry — the Canadian smartphone manufacturer has held on, all this while, trying hard to not let its fans down. There have been fans: fans that reached a whopping 85 million worldwide, when BlackBerry was at its peak. But that was really a long time ago. Things are different in 2016.
End of an era
On Wednesday, BlackBerry finally gave in to the inevitable. It sort of acknowledged that its hardware business isn’t what it used to be, once upon a time: it is down in the dumps. As such, BlackBerry had to make some hard decisions. BlackBerry will not make or design phones any more, it has confirmed. It just won’t make phones anymore, so it can ‘reduce capital requirements and enhance return on invested capital.’ It is, well in fact, the end of an era.
There have been, however, very extreme reactions from certain corners to BlackBerry’s new strategic direction for mobility solutions. Many seem to be in mourning, much like how things turned out when Nokia stopped selling its own phones. It is very important to understand how BlackBerry is pitching itself in 2016, post the announcement. For one, BlackBerry isn’t dead. It lives to die another day. Secondly, it will not make or design its phones in future, because, well, that costs a lot of money. Somebody else will do that for BlackBerry.
BlackBerry isn’t dead. It lives to die another day. Secondly, it will not make or design its phones in future, because, well, that costs a lot of money. Somebody else will do that for BlackBerry
“The company plans to end all internal hardware development and will outsource that function to partners,” company CEO John Chen has said in a statement. If that statement confuses you, a little, it’s not your fault. It is after all very technical.
Here’s a little more clarity for you…”BlackBerry is not getting out of the devices business. We are simply adjusting the model for how BlackBerry devices are brought to market,” a company spokesperson told India Today Online. Essentially, BlackBerry will do something on the lines of what Google used to do with its Nexus-branded phones. This year, though, reports suggest that Google will have a bigger role making the upcoming Pixel and Pixel XL. Even Apple, does not manufacture its own iPhones, but outsources the job to Foxconn. It does design its own iPhones though.
BlackBerry, however, will rely solely on third-party OEMs to build and design its phones from now. These phones — built by third-party companies — will have BlackBerry branding and then sold in the market.
Live to die another day
The company has already begun putting the strategy to work, even before the formal announcement. The recently launched DTEK50 is a classic example. The phone in question is simply a re-branded Alcatel Idol 4. BlackBerry, according to reports, has at least one more phone coming up soon that will be built and designed by TCL (Alcatel). The phone is expected to be called the DTEK60 and it will likely be a re-branded Alcatel Idol 4S . Reports however suggest that the DTEK60 will come with a revamped spec-sheet which includes: a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor with 4GB RAM, a 21-megapixel rear camera and USB Type-C for charging and data syncing. It will reportedly share some features and the design and build with the Idol 4S. The phone, like the DTEK50 will have a BlackBerry branding.
I mentioned, in the beginning, how I remember the BlackBerry for its QWERTY keyboards. Chances are we may not see a BlackBerry phone with a QWERTY, featuring the iconic company design anymore and that’s just sad. Even if BlackBerry outsources the job to someone, I am not sure how many companies (now) would want to build a phone with a QWERTY keyboard. Even if they do, I am not sure how someone would be able to build something as iconic as the Curve or the Bold. There is however, a report, going around that suggests BlackBerry may have one parting gift for all us QWERTY fans. CEO John Chen has reportedly confirmed to BNN — in a video — that BlackBerry plans on launching a QWERTY keyboard-based smartphone sometime in the next couple of years. Perhaps, the phone was already in the works, so maybe BlackBerry would want to finish what it started before hanging its boots. Then again, it is not hanging its boots, only passing them on to companies like TCL.
It is, but, the end of an era. Once iconic designs that only BlackBerry could have imagined and brought to life, will all be part of its glorious history: from the odd-ball Passport to the classic Porsche edition. The Android-based Priv will technically be its last in-house designed phone, which is kind of ironic. It was, after all, Android that brought BlackBerry down, and iOS.
The future is…software
Speaking of which, what will be the future like for someone who has recently purchased the Priv? Will BlackBerry continue to support these users, and should these units be damaged or broken — under warranty — will BlackBerry provide after sales and necessary replacement? If yes, for how long? Also, will BlackBerry continue to sell these phones in the market after the new strategic decision, or be done with it once the stock runs out? If yes, for how long? These are the questions that BlackBerry has to answer. We have reached out to the company for this, and will update the piece once we have more clarity.
For now, BlackBerry is done making smartphones, for better or for worse. Instead, it will focus all its energy (and resources) on software, something that it is already pretty good at. “Our financial foundation is strong, and our pivot to software is taking hold. In Q2, we more than doubled our software revenue year over year and delivered the highest gross margin in the company’s history,” Chen has reaffirmed.
Shifting focus to software, at large, makes more sense for BlackBerry. If its Q2 fiscal 2017 report data is to be gone by, the company seems to be doing very well on this front. It has reported 89 per cent year over year growth in software and services revenue in Q2 2017.
“This is an entirely sensible decision and probably an overdue one. Software revenue and the margin profile associated with that is where the focus should have been, and now can be,” IDC technology analyst, John Jackson told India Today Online.