There’s a new BlackBerry phone launching in 2021, but don’t expect it to be cheap…
BlackBerry as a phone brand is dead. Nowadays, the company we know as BlackBerry licenses out its “BlackBerry” brand to OEMs. TCL used to own the license for BlackBerry but in 2020 it switched over to a new owner, Onward Mobility.
As for when we’ll see this new BlackBerry phone, no one seems to know for sure. The phone was initially meant to launch in May 2021, but that date has now been and gone. What happened? COVID most likely – it has messed up pretty much everything from the car industry to the PS5.
The new BlackBerry phone will run 5G, feature next-generation specs, meaning things like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 CPU, plenty of RAM, and, of course, BlackBerry’s iconic QWERTY keyboard.
BlackBerry 5G Phone Price?
As for price, the earliest estimations peg the new BlackBerry phone retailing in and around the $800/£800 mark. This figure is based on the fact that it will run the latest spec and hardware, as well as a pretty advanced camera module on its front and rear.
And when you build in high-end specs, the price always goes up. I don’t think the phone will retail for $1000. That’d just be stupid. Although, you never know. Onward Mobility is clearly targeting the phone at the security conscious, so enterprise and government-types.
This kind of user was BlackBerry’s old bread and butter, but since about 2012 nearly all of its old customer base has moved on – most of them to iPhone. And during this time, Apple has doubled down on encryption and privacy inside iOS, making it one of the most secure and trusted platforms on the market.
“Enterprise professionals are eager for secure 5G devices that enable productivity, without sacrificing the user experience,” said Peter Franklin, CEO of OnwardMobility. “BlackBerry smartphones are known for protecting communications, privacy, and data. This is an incredible opportunity for OnwardMobility to bring next-generation 5G devices to market with the backing of BlackBerry and FIH Mobile.”
If you read the above quote, it seems to focus on 5G mainly. And productivity. But that’s just marketing speak. It doesn’t really say anything about how OnwardMobility will do anything differently than before.
The issue with BlackBerry phones of old was not that they lacked connectivity or productivity features, it was that they just weren’t as appealing as what the competition, notably Apple and Samsung, were offering.
My only concern here is that OnwardMobility is about to do the EXACT same thing that BlackBerry did before: offer a phone that isn’t really unique or different enough based on a vision that isn’t attractive to 90% of the market.
And let’s not forget, the BlackBerry brand itself carries very little weight with consumers. Banking on the BlackBerry brand alone selling phones, which is what OnwardMobility appears to be doing, does not seem like much of a coherent plan.
This didn’t work for BlackBerry itself, nor TCL, or when BlackBerry
Take the QWERTY keyboard, for instance. How many people do you see ditching their iPhone 12 or Samsung Galaxy S21 for the new BlackBerry phone just because it has a physical keyboard?
100? 1000? 10,000? Whatever the number, it will not be a significant amount of people. And just as was the case in 2012, no one really cares about QWERTY keyboards on phones. I say, no one, but what I mean is “no one” in a macro, meaningful sense.
And as someone that is old enough to remember the days of RIM, the following statement sounds exactly like the kind of stuff the company used to say back in the day – back when it was the fastest-growing company on the planet.
“Companies are rapidly investing in transformative technologies to improve productivity, but often don’t place enough emphasis on security, particularly in their use of mobile devices,” said analyst Jack Gold, President and Principal Analyst of J. Gold Associates, LLC. “With 5G quickly coming to market, and the acceleration it will cause in upgrading mobile devices and deploying productivity enhancing apps, deploying proven and highly secure products like the BlackBerry 5G devices in enterprises, government, and regulated industries like finance or legal, are mission critical.”
Yes, this all sounds good, in principle. But as any phone company will tell you, the vast majority of sales are driven by consumers – not enterprise users. BYOD has been around for years now too, so IT departments are now well versed in running all different kinds of phones securely. As much as I love the legacy BlackBerry brand, I just don’t see how it can carve a niche out for itself in this market, not when this is the exact market it lost back in the day…
In fact, in order to make this enterprise more profitable, OnwardMobility would probably be better following BBK’s lead with its hyper-successful RealMe and VIVO brands. It makes good-looking Android phones with killer specs and then retails them for less than its competition.
This is how OnePlus, another BBK brand made its bones. Perhaps OnwardMobility should be looking at this angle rather than trying to re-tap a market that RIM lost nearly a decade ago?
A Foldable BlackBerry Phone? That Would Be Exciting
When OnwardMobility announced it was taking over the BlackBerry license, I knew what would happen: it’d release a standard-looking BlackBerry phone with 5G, as if mobile data connectivity was the ONLY reason no one bought BlackBerry phones between 2012 and 2018.
I also knew it’d include a QWERTY keyboard too, ‘cos BlackBerry. But what I was hoping for was something unique and fresh. Something like a foldable phone with a QWERTY keyboard – think the Microsoft Surface Duo, just not completely rubbish.
Going this route, the BlackBerry brand could focus on making a foldable device was that actually useful in a meaningful way. A foldable phone is also more suitable for integrating a QWERTY keyboard too, it could easily be built into the form factor without hampering the display experience.
The phone market is tougher than ever these days. Apple and Samsung dominate with brands like VIVO and Xiaomi bringing up the rear. Apple and Samsung have the brand appeal, while VIVO and Xiaomi have aggressive pricing.
OnwardMobility would be far better off figuring out how to do something different and/or better, rather than just trying to re-do what RIM attempted years ago. 5G didn’t save LG, and it definitely won’t save the BlackBerry brand. Not when all the other players, notably Apple and Samsung, also have it up and running on their products as well.
Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.