BlackBerry CEO: I'm open to creating a tablet again

Playbook, take 2? "It's on my mind," says CEO John Chen. But it wouldn't be a tablet for tablet's sake -- it would have to be "iconic."

BlackBerry CEO John Chen presenting at this year's Mobile World Congress. Sarah Tew/CNET

BARCELONA -- BlackBerry may take another run at the tablet market.

That's if CEO John Chen thinks the opportunity is right. "It's not in the works, but it's on my mind," Chen said in an interview at the Mobile World Congress conference here.

A BlackBerry tablet could satisfy the needs of a small but fiercely loyal group of productivity-focused customers who have stuck with the struggling smartphone maker and its operating system, potentially giving it a new revenue stream. But there aren't enough BlackBerry faithful to sustain such a business, especially given the tablet category saw its first year-over-year decline in shipments in the fourth quarter.

With its market share at less than 1 percent, BlackBerry seems open to experimentation. Last year brought the unusually wide BlackBerry Passport, with a square screen accompanied by a squatter version of the line's trademark keyboard. On Tuesday, BlackBerry offered a brief glimpse at a touchscreen smartphone with curved edges on the sides and a slide-out keyboard.

A tablet would mark BlackBerry's second attempt to enter the market. The first shot, the BlackBerry Playbook, was critically panned when it was released in 2011 and quickly fell into the bargain bin.

On the plus side, there's renewed interest in tablets powerful enough to handle work tasks. Microsoft's Surface Pro 3 is a billion-dollar business, and there's the persistent rumor of a larger iPad Pro. Still, tablet sales have hit a rough patch, with even Apple suffering declining iPad sales. Total worldwide shipments of tablets and so-called 2-in-1 devices (hybrids of laptops and tablets) during the fourth quarter of 2014 fell by 3.2 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2013, according to IDC.

The BlackBerry Leap represents a return to the touchscreen for the company. Sarah Tew / CNET

BlackBerry has already laid out its product roadmap for the year, which includes a yet-to-be-named slider BlackBerry; an affordable all-touchscreen device called the Leap, which sells for $275 without a contract; a special Porsche edition BlackBerry; and one more device with the traditional keyboard. A tablet is unlikely to make its way into the market any time soon.

Chen said he was looking at other equipment manufacturers to see what tablets they're working on, and talking to people internally. He wants to make sure that a BlackBerry tablet would stand out with an innovative design or new technology.

"I want it to be different. I want it to be iconic," Chen said. "Bringing a tablet out for a tablet's sake, it's not the right thing to do."

Chen didn't appear to be fazed by the unhappy history of BlackBerry's original tablet.

"We could always call it a PlayBook 2," he quipped.

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