BlackBerry phones are set to return to the smartphone market next year in North America and Europe thanks to an American startup.
OnwardMobility has reached an agreement with BlackBerry to develop, engineer and bring to market a device described by its CEO Peter Franklin as a “5G flagship Android” smartphone (N.B. – it is not the one you see in the picture above).
The company is aiming for a launch in the first half of 2021. It has not yet disclosed any device specifications, but it has confirmed an Android OS, 5G capability and a keyboard, as well as “competitive” pricing.
TCL had the licence to make and sell BlackBerry devices from 2016 until earlier this year, when it announced it would stop doing so from August 31. However, the manufacturer confirmed it would still provide software and security updates and customer service for existing BlackBerry smartphones for up to two years after this date.
Since stepping back from the device space, BlackBerry has made moves into cybersecurity, acquiring software firm Cylance for $1.4 billion last year.
Speaking to Mobile News, Franklin said that the remote working induced by the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted the needs for strong device security to consumers and businesses alike, although OnwardMobility began development before it started.
“We’ve seen security-conscious customers have a whole new threat landscape to deal with and security is more important with working from home,” he said. “Whereas enterprises used to have their employees in a locked down environment, now everyone is remote and that exposes additional threats.
“The BlackBerry brand carries a lot of weight and loyalty and I think there will be a lot of enterprises, government agencies and consumers who will be interested in the phone that is to come,” he added.
Additionally, he said that developing a 5G device required staying up-to-date with an emerging threat landscape.
Do we need a new BlackBerry?
The smartphone world is a very different place compared with 10 years ago. Heck, it’s pretty different even compared with just two years ago, when we got the last BlackBerry phone courtesy of TCL. BlackBerry’s original USPs were battery life, a keyboard and strong security.
Most smartphones worth their salt have solid batteries, while keyboards are effectively gone from the smartphone landscape. As for security, it’s doubtless that working directly with BlackBerry will help OnwardMobility to make a secure device, but A) security has improved across the board across both Android and iOS, and B) while businesses will be interested in secure devices, it’s consumers who will drive volume, and they’re usually indifferent as long as they’re told they’ve got some form of protection.
Still, it’s nice to see something different hit the market, and given how this year is going, perhaps 2021 might turn the unexpectedness up a notch and we’ll see BlackBerry sit atop the sales charts.