BlackBerry CEO confirms Foxconn-made Q20 and Z3 phones

The Q20 is designed for the business market, while the Foxconn phone will launch first in Indonesia in April.

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Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read
BlackBerry CEO John Chen and Foxconn founder Terry Gou with one of the new BlackBerrys. Brian Bennett/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--BlackBerry CEO John Chen confirmed two new phones were on their way this year.

The first, codenamed "Jakarta," but known as the BlackBerry Z3 will launch first in Indonesia in April before moving to other markets. It will retail for less than $200.

The second phone, the BlackBerry Q20 (which Chen dubbed "BlackBerry Classic" because of its keyboard) is designed for big business and government clients and will launch by the end of the year. It was also designed by Foxconn.

"We are definitely here to compete and make up some lost ground," Chen said during a press conference here on Tuesday.

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou was also on hand, and expressed his confidence that the company will be able to deliver BlackBerry phones to the market.

While phones can take up to a year to be developed, Foxconn only spent 3 months on the products, and both Gou and Chen were able to hold up demo units of the touchscreen Z3.

BlackBerry has previously said it was working with Foxconn to produce a BlackBerry 10-powered smartphone that could sell for less than $200. It's part of Chen's strategy of maintaining and hopefully building on its still relatively strong market share position in the emerging markets.

The Jakarta phone will be 3G, but Chen said there are plans to create an LTE version that will be sold to different markets.

Chen also teased a number of flagship-class devices in the works, but didn't provide any further details.

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BlackBerry is in the middle of a radical shift in its strategy, moving away from the failed consumer-centric effort from last year and focusing more on government and large business customers. Chen has maintained that BlackBerry isn't giving up on the consumer market, but it remains to be seen how the company will balance those two sides. He reiterated the company's goal of breaking even this fiscal year and turning a profit the following year.

With more people bringing their own smartphones to work, there are fewer companies issuing BlackBerrys to their employees. BlackBerry last year attempted to buck the "bring-your-own-device" trend by attempting to release buzz-worthy devices of its own in the form of a splashy launch and the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10, but the products largely fizzled.

Chen described the break down as 30 percent of companies that still mandate corporate-issued phones, while 70 percent have moved to bring your own devices. While the company doesn't want to cede the larger 70 percent share, Chen said he would spend the next 18 months focusing on locking up that 30 percent market. He added that moves such as the opening up of BBM and the ability for BES12 to manage other devices is a step toward addressing that broader 70 percent.

Chen has said he would pull back from the marketing effort and won't attempt to compete against Apple or Samsung in terms of building a consumer household name.

BlackBerry also said that its BES 12 server will be available before the end of the year. John Sims, head of BlackBerry's enterprise business, said BES 12 would serve as the unifying foundation for all BlackBerry devices, whether the phone is running on BlackBerry 10 or older versions. Sims also announced simpler pricing and an "easy pass" to allow for a free upgrade to the latest BES server. He also announced a protected version of BBM, or a secure version of its messenger system.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen speaks to reporters in Barcelona. Brian Bennett/CNET

Chen acknowledged that BlackBerry's consumer focus last year spread the company too thin, and that the company did not do a good enough job of "educating the market on how great things are."

Chen also weighed in on Facebook's $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp, noting that it doesn't change the company's strategy.

"We have always worked on putting BBM on every phone there is," Chen said.

Chen dismissed the notion of wearables, saying he has no plans for such a device. But he did entertain the notion of building an industry-specific BlackBerry phone.

Finally, Chen addressed the recent spat between himself and T-Mobile CEO John Legere, noting that he didn't start the "vocal conversation." He would only say that he was glad that his relationship with the "two major US carriers are getting better by the day," a subtle jab at T-Mobile.

"That strategy will continue to work for us," he said.