BlackBerry: We're still in the phone business

CEO John Chen says the company is committed to earning back your business with its next phone -- the BlackBerry Classic.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

The BlackBerry Classic is geared toward big business and government customers. BlackBerry

BlackBerry may be off the radar among many mobile phone customers these days, but the company wants to remind us that it's still got more up its sleeve.

Posted on Wednesday, an open letter from CEO John Chen touted the upcoming new BlackBerry Classic phone as a way to prove that the company is far from dead and buried in the mobile phone market. Formerly known as the Q20, the BlackBerry Classic is the company's attempt to return to its roots with a physical QWERTY keyboard, a row of navigation keys and a trackpad.

Announced in February, the BlackBerry Classic is a Foxconn-designed phone that's geared toward big business and government and due to launch by the end of the year. Avoiding the highly competitive consumer market may be a wise strategy, but BlackBerry will still face an uphill battle trying to lure corporate customers back into its fold. Even businesses and government agencies have been gravitating toward Apple's iPhones and devices running Google's Android operating system.

Chen's letter strikes a tone of going against the grain, of offering a "classic" phone unlike the "trendy" iPhones and Androids. In that respect, the CEO is attempting to appeal to former and perhaps still loyal BlackBerry customers as well as potential new buyers:

It's tempting in a rapidly changing, rapidly growing mobile market to change for the sake of change -- to mimic what's trendy and match the industry-standard, kitchen-sink approach of trying to be all things to all people.

But there's also something to be said for the classic adage, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

BlackBerry Classic reflects that. It is classic BlackBerry -- complete with a top row of navigation keys and a trackpad. It's the device that has always felt right in your hands and always felt right in your busy day.

Of course, we've made quite a few enhancements around the edges and on the inside. The screen is bigger and sharper. Our application catalogue is growing. The BlackBerry 10 operating system incorporates all the best productivity and collaboration features on any mobile device, including the BlackBerry Hub and our all-new BlackBerry Blend.

As a mobile phone maker, BlackBerry has been all but written off in some circles. BlackBerry's global mobile phone market share is expected to drop to 0.8 percent with shipments estimated at just 9.7 million for 2014, according to research firm IDC's May Mobile Phone tracker report. IDC expects the news to get even worse.

"IDC continues to reduce its BlackBerry forecast across the board with volumes expected to drop 49.6 percent in 2014, equivalent to 9.7 million units," the research firm said in May. "Looking forward, volumes are expected to continue to decline to 4.6 million units in 2018. The question of whether BlackBerry can survive continues to surface, and with expectations that share will fall below 1 percent in 2014, the only way the company will be viable is likely through a niche approach based on its security assets."

But BlackBerry is still in the game. In September, the company released its BlackBerry Passport phone equipped with the familiar physical keyboard and an odd, square design. BlackBerry must at least be hoping the Passport will generate some buzz among people who may have otherwise already discounted its devices.

With the BlackBerry Classic, the company is courting business customers who still crave the familiar BlackBerry look and feel enough to consider the phone a viable choice. BlackBerry has already set up a sign-up page where people can register to learn more about the Classic.

"We are committed to earning your business -- or earning it back, if that's the case," Chen said. "In the weeks ahead, BlackBerry will be sharing more details about Classic that we think you'll like."