The once-respected BlackBerry brand has been licensed yet again by a company hoping to use a familiar name to make a dent in the competitive Android phone market. This time, it’s a new Texas startup named OnwardMobility that’s taking the reins, promising to release a 5G BlackBerry device with Android and a physical QWERTY keyboard in 2021.
Little else is known about the device, including screen size or internal specs, but OnwardMobility told The Register it would come with a completely new keyboard design that will “reflect the brand values from a keyboard typing experience and input experience.” Which, yeah, sure! I love to reflect brand values. Do it all the time.
It seems OnwardMobility will be angling the device to enterprise customers, emphasizing the phone’s ability to get work done on the go (surely less of a draw in a pandemic?) and its security features. This all makes sense, considering these were the attributes that attracted so many customers to BlackBerry devices in the past.
It also seems the device won’t be flagship standard, but probably a healthy midrange. As OnwardMobility CEO Peter Franklin told The Register: “Top of mind for us is not just making the most secure and productive device, but also being an everyday device. That means things like a top-notch camera, and the other specs you’d expect from your day-to-day phone. Simultaneously, we know that we must be competitive, and so is our pricing.”
It’s worth remembering just how weird BlackBerry’s journey has been as a brand. BlackBerry devices were monarchs of the mobile world in the late aughts, but then Android and iOS took off and sales took a nosedive.
There was a reboot of sorts from 2013 onward, when a number of devices running BlackBerry 10 were released (including the fantastically square-shaped BlackBerry Passport). Then, in 2015, the company finally switched to Android with the BlackBerry Priv and its slide-out keyboard. In 2016, it stopped making its own phones altogether and licensed the brand to Chinese manufacturer TCL. TCL will lose rights to that brand as of August 31st this year, which apparently cleared the way for OnwardMobility to move in. (A side note: Indian telecoms firm Optiemus Infracom has also made its own BlackBerry-branded Android devices, but they are only available in the Indian market.)
That makes this either the fourth or fifth iteration of BlackBerry devices, depending on how you like to count them. And call us silly, stupid, or just plain morbid, but we’re still very curious to see exactly what OnwardMobility comes up with.
The new phone will be manufactured by FIH Mobile, a subsidiary of manufacturing giant Foxconn. It’ll be available in North America and Europe “in the first half of 2021.”