Analyst says €600 KEYone has a chance of success if it focuses on business, prosumer segments.
Blackberry on Saturday officially launched its latest smartphone, the Mercury. Except that it isn’t called the Mercury anymore, but ‘KEYone’ instead.
It was certainly called the Mercury when it was shown off at CES in January, but Blackberry has clearly gone in a different direction since then.
Priced at €599 and released by Hong Kong-based TCL Communication, which struck a brand licensing deal with Blackberry in December, the KEYone comes with that most Blackberry of features: a portrait QWERTY keyboard. The touchscreen is 4.5 inches – slightly smaller than a typical flagship smartphone – to accommodate the hardware keys. It comes with Android 7.1, and is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 processor.
"We’re humbled to play such an important role in the future of BlackBerry smartphones, which have been so iconic in our industry, and we’re eager to prove to the Blackberry community that their excitement around this new Blackberry smartphone is something they can be proud of," said Nicolas Zibell, CEO of TCL, in a statement.
With Blackberry now focusing predominantly on mobile software rather than hardware these days, the company was keen to emphasise the KEYone’s managed mobility and security credentials.
The handset comes with Blackberry DTEK, which constantly monitors the operating system and apps for security threats and alerts the user when they are at risk. It also comes with Blackberry Hub, which organises the user’s emails, texts and social media messages into one place, removing the need to navigate between separate apps.
The new Blackberry has a chance of success, believes Ian Fogg, head of mobile analysis at IHS Markit, "because few companies now offer Blackberry-style design and features, and the productivity-focused smartphone segment is underserved."
In particular, "Microsoft has failed to establish Windows 10 Mobile in this space, and no other company is dominant in the segment, yet," Fogg said.
He recommended that Blackberry focus on the business and prosumer segments, rather than consumers, even though the majority of Blackberry’s hardware sales in recent years have been to "data-centric and value-centric emerging market consumers" in South Africa, Indonesia and the Americas, or to a European and Middle Eastern youth audience during the heyday of Blackberry Messenger.
The consumer market has moved on, he said, and besides, "a productivity focus play will generate significantly higher margin than the other segments."
The KEYone will hit the shelves worldwide at the beginning of April.