BlackBerry Is Planning a Comeback. For Some, It Never Left
There was something else, though. The signature QWERTY keyboard was the “perfect business tool” for sending emails on the go, but then influencers became part of her PR remit: “I just had to give in, as it was becoming a bit annoying to not view Instagram properly for my job.”
That’s more pro than con for some people, who are using the BlackBerry as a way to cut out their worst internet habits. Louis Doré, a sports journalist at the i paper, still uses a BlackBerry KEY2 (2018), the most recent of TCL’s Android/BlackBerry phones, and before that he owned a KeyOne (2017). “The KeyOne is essentially allergic to social with a 3:2 screen ratio, which cuts the top off of Instagram Stories. The Facebook app basically hates it too. The Key2 doesn’t have the random restart issue for me and is pretty perfect as a distraction-free phone,” he says.
“I’d say my love for it is about as deep as my love for a phone can go. It’s weaned me off social media—except Twitter, which I will never stop scrolling. And it makes me feel connected without ever feeling bombarded.”
Doré’s list of his most-used features is pretty compelling; he likes having apps shortcutted to the KEY2 keyboard, the ability to stop applications from accessing the microphone or camera in settings, and the battery life that can go to three days on one charge. “It’s a bit clunky, pretty behind the times, and at 27 years old I probably shouldn’t be their target market, but it’s really good at what I want it to do.”
BlackBerry CEO John Chen didn’t dig into his favorite app shortcuts in his recent statement on the new Onward Mobility deal, but he unsurprisingly mentioned the keyboard, stating that the new licensing partnership will deliver “a BlackBerry 5G smartphone device with a physical keyboard” and offering some more general guarantees on security and productivity.
“Yes, I’m a keyboard nutter, which is probably what you thought of BlackBerry owners, isn’t it?” says freelance tech writer Dan Robinson. “The PRIV (2015) is probably the best phone I’ve owned to date, which is why I’ve kept it so long. I got it in 2016, so I’ve had it for four years,” he says. “BlackBerry used to issue regular software updates, but that ran out after a while, of course.” Robinson says that, like a lot of people, he mainly uses his phone, which in this case has a slider keyboard, for emails and messaging: “I find the onscreen touch keyboards really annoying.”
Whether it’s down to millions of people who still have fond memories of BBM or Brick Breaker, BlackBerry as a brand has been through many (many) RIP moments—but it just keeps sticking around. Outside of vintage games consoles, only a handful of other tech products—such as smartwatch maker Pebble—seem to encourage the same level of devotion. BlackBerry stuck around when the switch was, finally, made from BB10 to Android in 2015; it stuck around when BlackBerry reported a $670 million loss in 2016; it stuck around when it stopped designing its own hardware and started licensing out the brand to TCL.
What does a comeback success look like now? TechCrunch points out that the Austin, Texas-based Onward Mobility has fewer than 50 employees, and at this point, it’s difficult to see how it would break through even a million or two device sales into some sort of mainstream position in the smartphone market. Still, a new BlackBerry—if it hits a rather narrow sweet spot—could make tens of thousands of people, at the very least, pretty damn happy.
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September 10, 2020 at 09:03AM