Is a step back a step forward? BlackBerry certainly hopes introducing a new “classic” phone that is highly reminiscent of their good old day sparks a comeback as the once high-flying firm struggles to stay aloft.
BlackBerry Ltd. is overhauling its product offerings with two new smartphones and other key updates. This demonstrates new chief executive John Chen’s emerging turnaround vision for the struggling company. Since taking over the Ontario-based smartphone maker last fall, Chen has made it clear the firm needs to return to its roots to restore its fortunes.
BlackBerry showcased two very different smartphone models at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Tuesday. One phone resembles their classic (i.e. very successful) old model with the color screen lacking then and other updated features. The other phone is a sleek touchscreen model made for the Indonesia market.
BlackBerry is going retro with the first model in the hopes of winning back customers. Labeled the Q20, the phone will feature the classic BlackBerry QWERTY keyboard and the integrated trackpad users loved. The keyboard phone will have a 3.5-inch touchscreen as well. The company has also indicated that the Q20′s user interface will employ the iconic BlackBerry Menu, Back, Send, and End buttons. The Q20 will run the BlackBerry 10 operating system. More details about the retro phone, including pricing and availability, will be release later this year.
The phone for the Indonesian market, the Z3, is the first in the company’s new strategic partnership with Foxconn Technology Group. The keyboardless model will feature a 5-inch display, built-in FM radio and apps made specifically for that market. More details on this phone, due in April, are also forthcoming.
The company also used the Mobile World Congress to announce that its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) will soon be available for Windows Phone and Nokia X owners. The messaging service should out this summer for the Windows Phone and shortly after for the Nokia X.
While BlackBerry hopes returning to its classic keyboard sparks a company comeback, the move to develop its software for other platform is a tip-off to a possible direction for the ailing firm. If (and many say when) the company stops making phones, it could switch to deriving its revenue from offering services on other smartphones.
It remains to be seen if Chen’s efforts are too late to save BlackBerry. The company reported a $4.4 billion loss last December for its third fiscal quarter. An equally dismal number is the report that BlackBerry’s share of smartphone sales during the last quarter of 2013 was less than 1 percent.
Chen clearly believes the path to a sustainable future for BlackBerry lies in improving on elements that helped build its profitable past. He indicated that he consistently heard from ardent BlackBerry customers that the classic hard buttons and trackpad are essential to the BlackBerry QWERTY experience during his first few months. Consequently, he hopes that reintroducing a popular classic design, a renewed focus on corporate and government clients as well as emphasis on its most popular software, BBM, sparks the comeback BlackBerry desperately needs.
By Dyanne Weiss