BlackBerry returns with 3 possible new phones in 2017

China's TCL could make as many as three BlackBerry phones this year as it builds the portfolio. Also, could there be hope for a revival of the Palm brand?

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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
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TCL could have multiple BlackBerrys in the market by the end of the year.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The BlackBerry KeyOne may soon see some siblings.

TCL isn't wasting time building up its portfolio of phones using the BlackBerry name. The company plans to release as many as three phones this year, TCL Communications Nicolas Zibell said in an interview on Saturday.

The company is working on an all-touchscreen version, a spiritual successor to the DTEK 50 and DTEK 60 phones, which it also built for BlackBerry itself, according to a source familiar with the rollout plans. TCL will likely get rid of the DTEK branding, the source said.

Watch this: BlackBerry KeyOne has a physical keyboard filled with neat tricks

The commitment shows that TCL is taking seriously its mission to revive the BlackBerry phone brand. The Chinese company introduced its first attempt, the KeyOne, at a press conference on Saturday ahead of Mobile World Congress trade show. It's just one of several companies hoping to breathe new life into a once-beloved name in the wireless industry, with both Nokia, now under the control of a Finnish startup, and Motorola looking to make a splash at the conference under new owners.

It's a new world for TCL, best known for making budget televisions , as well as phones through its Alcatel line.

A few issues with BlackBerry in its original incarnation were its slow rollout of devices and its inability to respond to the market. The company drew criticism for the high price of its first Android-powered phone, the Priv , when it hit the market in 2015. It wasn't until 2016 that it launched the more affordable DTEK 50.

TCL hopes that a full portfolio of BlackBerry devices will serve as proof of its support for the brand, something it believes carriers didn't previously see.

Hope for Palm?

TCL is hoping to become a holding company of sorts for various phone brands. In addition to Alcatel and BlackBerry, the company has said it plans on launching a TCL-branded phone.

So then, how about Palm? TCL bought the Palm name in January 2015, but has sat on that asset.

BlackBerry KeyOne wants to make the keyboard cool again

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To be clear, TCL only bought the rights to use the Palm name. The WebOS platform that powered the last run of Palm phones went to LG, which has used the platform in its televisions and one of its smartwatches.

For a while, it seemed like the Palm name would be shelved indefinitely, and the company has been silent since the acquisition. But Zibell hinted that it may have plans for the brand, symbolic of a onetime tech pioneer.

"We don't do things by mistake," Zibell said. "Stay tuned."

Just don't hold your breath waiting for something to happen soon. Zibell said this year TCL will be focused on reviving BlackBerry.

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