Blackberry not done with Android just yet

by Matt Klassen on April 18, 2016

ChenFollowing a disappointing earnings call earlier this month it truly looked like the writing was on the wall for Blackberry’s hardware business, as the company’s high-end flagship phone, the Priv, failed to impress. But according to CEO John Chen, what the company got wrong was not the market’s desire for a secure, functional, and familiar Blackberry device, but the price customers were willing to pay for it.

With that in mind, Chen admitted last week that despite the doom-and-gloom hints about scuttling the hardware business during that disappointing earnings call, his company wasn’t done producing phones just yet, and has plans to “launch two mid-range Android handsets this year, one with a physical keyboard and one with a full touchscreen.

But will anything be different for Blackberry in the mid-range market this time around, or is this truly the last gasp of the company’s fading mobile business? For once I’ll say I’m cautiously optimistic (emphasis on “cautiously”), but the difference now is that Blackberry has Android, and offering a secure, enterprise-oriented mid-range phone on a popular platform may be exactly the right mix of affordability and attractiveness that will get clients coming back.

“Since I started at the company [in November 2013] I’ve been saying I’ll make the handset business profitable. If I can’t make it profitable because the market won’t let me, then I’ll get out of the handset business. I love our handset business, but we need to make money,” Chen told The National.

It was a sentiment that echoed the words of a week before, when Chen told investors that the hardware business would be profitable, or it would be abandoned. While most took that to mean that the end was near for the company’s mobile efforts—turning instead to its newfound role as a security and data management firm—it appears that the company will take one more stab at smartphones, attempting to produce something more affordable, and thus steer clear of the Apple and Samsung products that dominate the high-end market.

Of course given the diversification of both those mobile titans, my guess is that Blackberry won’t find the mid-range market to be any more welcoming than it was before, except to say that it might be able to corner the mid-range enterprise market share.

Chen said in his interview over the week the Priv “was too high-end a product” and that a lot of “enterprise customers have said to us, ‘I want to buy your phone but $700 is a little too steep for me. I’m more interested in a $400 device’.”

Given that enterprise clients remain interested in Blackberry is a good thing, now it just remains to be seen whether or not there are enough mid-range clients to keep Blackberry’s mobile division afloat.

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