BlackBerry chief executive brings the company back to its business roots, focusing on secure messaging and a new phone that features the ‘classic’ trademark trackpad and keyboard
BlackBerry is working with Chinese manufacturing company Foxconn to produce a new, cheaper smartphone that will sell for under $200, it was announced on Tuesday.
The chief executive John Chen told the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that the Z3 will launch in Indonesia in April, and that it was built in just three months instead of the usual 12.
Chen said the handset would eventually be released in other markets “with an LTE version sometime before I die”. The handset is entirely touchscreen, but Chen also announced a second new “classic” phone, the Q20, that will be released before the end of the year – which will feature BlackBerry’s trademark mechanical keyboard and also revives its trackpad.
It will resemble older BlackBerry models, but will use the new BB10 software.
“Almost everyone I’ve met, in government, enterprise, loves the keyboard, but it turns out what they love just as much is the little belt above the keyboard that held the trackpad and buttons, which is why they didn’t like the Q10. So we decided to listen to customers, and give them what they want.”
Foxconn owner Terry Gou said: “We have 100% confidence in BB and we are fully supporting them. We will make this work.”
Secure messaging future
Chen went on to announce that the company will promote its expertise in secure messaging with a new service called BBM Protected.
Chen, who took charge of the company in November, vowed to take the company back into the black by the end of the fiscal year and into profitability next year.
He said his path to turning the business around was centred on secure communications and productivity for the regulated industries, including banking, government, healthcare and other data-secure business.
“We are still committed to the device business, but one of our turnaround strategies is to focus on enterprise, the regulated industry and our server business,” said Chen at a session with the press at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Chen explained that BlackBerry’s profitable server business, the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), will be the focus for the company in the immediate future, with a new version BES 12 due to be released by the end of the year that will bring cross platform compatibility with Windows Phone, as well as Android and iPhone.
BlackBerry will leverage its popular cross-platform messaging service, BBM, which currently has 85 million monthly active users (WhatsApp has 465 million monthly active users). Its new BBM Protected service will offer enterprise customers secure, encrypted end-to-end messaging as well as allow companies to keep a record of conversations for compliance regulations. It will be the first of a suite of enterprise BBM applications and services.
‘Spread ourselves a little too thin’
Chen admitted that the company’s consumer focus damaged BlackBerry’s standings in the enterprise space, which it was historically strong.
“There’s a certain truth to the fact that we focused on the consumer, spreading ourselves a little too thin, before I came on board. I have now rectified that,” Chen said.
Clarifying his position on apps, Chen said that security was of paramount importance and that the level of certification required for entry into the BlackBerry World app store was going to be very high ensuring security on the platform, “we feel that’s a value add.”
Chen also explained that the company was also working on high-end devices, which is something business users demand accord to BlackBerry, but that he could not talk about them at this stage.