I’m going to admit it upfront. The notion that we will all buy a BlackBerry phone ever again seems very far-fetched. BlackBerry’s tale of descent is such a perfectly constructed ‘series of unfortunate events’ that owning a BB once again seems completely ridiculous. BlackBerry was once the No. 1 seller of smartphones in the entire world, outselling anything and everyone. Owning a BB was a sign of power, of being a corporate warrior, a showcase of who you were in life, the red blinking light was a beacon of urgency never to be ignored, the BB prayer (walk into a meeting room and you would find everyone bent over their BBs, holding them in folded hands) was a common sight and having BlackThumbs (due to typing too much on the BB’s classic keyboard) was something to be flaunted. BB ruled!
Until it didn’t. The iPhone was born and started the ‘smartphone touchscreen’ mania, Android phones started to whip up their own storm, cameras on phones became really powerful, new hardware and features made the phone turn into a God device. And yet the BB phone kept trying to convince itself that this was just a fad and people would come back to it. By the time they got their act together and started to make really good phones, the smartphone train had left the BB station. Even when they did get the phone right, BB became a master of screwing up everything else. They priced them wrong, experimented with form factors, keyboards only touchscreen, slide outs and other strange levels of ergonomics. The death of BlackBerry was imminent. Except they didn’t really die! They kept making some form of a comeback. But this time what BlackBerry is about to do is dramatically different.
A new era
It seems to be the era of classic brands resurfacing through licensing. Nokia did it and is assured of a great start, BB is doing the same. The new BlackBerry phones are coming out thanks to a licensing agreement with TCL. Thus no legacy baggage, a fresh approach, brand new hardware, new pricing, no mistakes of the previous kind. The BB KeyOne, the phone that was showcased at MWC was the perfect showcase of that. Absolutely gorgeous looking, great new features, fantastic hardware that can compete with any other Android phone and beat it, excellent optics, differentiators like a fingerprint scanner in the space bar and multiple other standout features. TCL now needs to make sure that it’s priced right and competes and beats any other Android phone in its category.
Our own blackberry
TCL isn’t the only licensee. We have our own BB right here in India. Optiemus has the rights to design, manufacture, sell, promote and provide customer support for BlackBerry Android handsets in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. They come out with India specific handsets, sell them worldwide and will also bring TCL’s entire portfolio to India. Plans for BB Android phones at every price point and every genre is on the cards and Optiemus could change the game for BB all over the world. Imagine a top of the line BB phone for under 10K. And a mind-bending flagship BB that beats all other Android flagships priced at 39K.
The BB advantage
So, why will you buy a BB Android phone when there are already so many Android phone brands that are already killing it? Two words. Keyboard and security. If you haven’t typed on a real physical keyboard in some time, if you haven’t understood the joy of what your fingers feel when they hit a real key. And the fact that BB brings unparalleled world-class security to your phone isn’t something to discount. If the recent revelations that the CIA and many other government bodies have been spying on citizen phones and have easily been able to hack Apple and other Android phones doesn’t send a shiver down your spine, then you’re made of much more solid stuff that I am. A huge hacker meltdown that breaks into millions of phones and exposes all private data maybe around the corner, and a BB level encrypted phone could be the only safeguard against that.
If a BB Android phone can compete at hardware and feature level with all other Android phones is priced better, looks great, brings the era of the keyboard back and guarantees security, then the return of BB is guaranteed. The only ones that can screw this up is BB itself. Remember though, they’ve been known to do that before.
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, March 19
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