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.
AMAZON ERROR ALLOWED ALEXA USER TO EAVESDROP ON ANOTHER HOME
A user of Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant in Germany got access to more than a thousand recordings from another user because of “a human error” by the company.
The customer had asked to listen back to recordings of his own activities made by Alexa but he was also able to access 1,700 audio files from a stranger when Amazon sent him a link, German trade publication c’t reported.
“This unfortunate case was the result of a human error and an isolated single case,” an Amazon spokesman said.
The first customer had initially got no reply when he told Amazon about the access to the other recordings, the report said. The files were then deleted from the link provided by Amazon but he had already downloaded them on to his computer, added the report from c’t, part of German tech publisher Heise.
CRYPTOCURRENCY INDUSTRY FACES INSURANCE HURDLE TO MAINSTREAM AMBITIONS
Cryptocurrency exchanges and traders in Asia are struggling to insure themselves against the risk of hacks and theft, a factor they claim is deterring large fund managers from investing in a nascent market yet to be embraced by regulators.
Getting the buy-in from insurers would mark an important step in crypto industry efforts to show that it has solved the problem of storing digital assets safely following the reputational damage of a series of thefts, and allow it to attract investment from mainstream asset managers.
“Most institutionally minded crypto firms want to buy proper insurance, and in many cases, getting adequate insurance coverage is a regulatory or legal requirement,” said Henri Arslanian, PwC fintech and crypto leader for Asia.
“However, getting such coverage is almost impossible despite their best efforts.”
Many asset managers are interested in digital assets. A Greenwich Associates survey, published in September, said 72% of institutional investors who responded to the research firm believe crypto has a place in the future.
Last month, Mohamed El-Erian, Allianz’s chief economic adviser said that cryptocurrencies would gain wider acceptance as institutions began to invest in the space.
Most have held off investing so far however, citing regulatory uncertainty and a lack of faith in existing market infrastructure for storing and trading digital assets following a series of hacks, as well the plunge in prices.
The total market capitalisation of crypto currencies is currently estimated at approximately US$120bil (RM502bil) compared to over US$800bil (RM3.3tril) at its peak in January.
“Institutional investors who are interested in investing in crypto will have various requirements, including reliable custody and risk management arrangements,” said Hoi Tak Leung, a senior lawyer in Ashurst’s digital economy practice.
“Insufficient insurance coverage, particularly in a volatile industry such as crypto, will be a significant impediment to greater ‘institutionalisation’ of crypto investments.”
Regulatory uncertainty is another problem for large asset managers. While crypto currencies raise a number of concerns for regulators, including money laundering risks, few have set out clear frameworks for how cryptocurrencies should be traded, and by whom.
Insurance might allay some of the regulators’ concerns around cyber security. Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission recently said it was exploring regulating crypto exchanges, and signalled that the vast majority of the virtual assets held by a regulated exchange would need insurance cover.
Keeping crypto assets secure involves storing a 64 character alphanumeric private key. If the key is lost, the assets are effectively lost too.
Assets can be stored online, in so-called hot wallets, which are convenient to trade though vulnerable to being hacked, or in ‘cold’ offline storage solutions, safe from hacks, but often inconvenient to access frequently.
Over US$800mil worth of crypto currencies were stolen in the first half of this year according to data from Autonomous NEXT, a financial research firm.
Some institutions have started working to solve this problem, and may provide fierce competition to the incumbent players.
This year, Fidelity, and a group including Japanese investment bank Nomura have launched platforms that will offer custody services for digital assets.
Despite the industry’s complaints, insurers say that they do offer cover. Risk advisor Aon, received some two dozen inquiries this year from exchanges and crypto vaults seeking insurance, according to Thomas Cain, regional director, commercial risk solutions, at Aon’s Asian financial services and professions group.
“It is not difficult to insure companies that hold large amounts of crypto assets, but given the newness of the asset class and the publicity some of the crypto breaches have received, applicants need to make an effort to distinguish themselves,” Cain said.
The industry also says it is getting closer to solving the custody problem.
“This year there have been a number of developments, and some providers have developed custody solutions suitable for institutional clients’ needs,” said Tony Gravanis, managing director investments at blockchain investment firm Kenetic Capital.
“Players at the top end of the market have also been able to get insurance,” he said.
But this is not the case for all.
One cryptocurrency broker, declining to be named because of the subject’s sensitivity, said insurers struggled to understand the new technology and its implications, and that even those who were prepared to provide insurance would only offer limited cover. “We’ve not yet found an insurer who will offer coverage of a meaningful enough size to make it worthwhile,” he said. – Reuters
CTECH’S THURSDAY ROUNDUP OF ISRAELI TECH NEWS
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