BlackBerry might seems to have been long dead but it ain’t over until its over even though the brand had been licensed to different companies in the past including TCL after BlackBerry Limited itself decided to focus it’s attention on software development instead of tit’s failing hardware business.
There had been different attempts to raise the name BlackBerry from the dead with TCL launching different nice BlackBerry branded smartphones among which is the KeyOne which obviously did quite well in the market.
While TCL had already given up hopes on the brand, another company that wants to give it a try is the OnwardMobility, a start up which is trying to make the BlackBerry branded smartphone great again in a 5G era.
The company announced it got licensed to use the brand from BlackBerry and Foxconn subsidiary FIH Mobile this week. With that said, many might still wonder why any company let alone a start up try to dabble into a failed brand and what is their plan to bring the dead back to life.
The CEO of OnwardMobility, Peter Franklin did a sit-down with Engadget where he was willing to answer lingering questions and did lay out some ambition of his company which was incorporated in Austin back in 2018.
According to Franklin, the plan of the company is to build “The most secure smartphone out there” something which we’ve always known BlackBerry devices for. But then this doesn’t automatically mean that millions will ditch their Xiaomis, Huaweis, Samsungs or iPhones for BlackBerry just because it says “Secured” right?
But that doesn’t seem to be the only priority of OnWardMobility a the company said it also focuses on productivity which is well pronounced on its website. As for the specifications of the device, nothing much is known but we obviously know this will be the most “American-made” smartphone which could in fact pander to some audience as well as the incumbent US President, Donald Trump who is currently enraged with Chinese brands and doesn’t want any businesses to go out of the country to make their products.
Speaking of specifications, what is obvious is that we’ll surely expect some really cool features and well secured smartphone which will also include the physical qwerty button which is definitely BlackBerry signature.
But OnwardMobility’s target audience might not be the entire masses as BlackBerry devices in the past have been known to be business friendly and could land in the hands of government officials as well as enterprise users this time around after all, it’s all about niching out.
“The only way to be successful with government and enterprise is if consumers want to use it too,” Franklin said. “If your company makes you use this phone and you don’t like it, that’s not where we want to be.”
But you should still note that despite the fact that this device when released could be a business-class device, Franklin still made it clear that it will be a consumer-first “global flagship” which is expected to land by the first half of the year 2021.
In his words, Franklin described this device to come with a “world-class camera” and support for both sub-6 and mmWave 5G networks and of course I mentioned there will be physical qwerty keyboard. How the design will be isn’t revealed in a press conference held by OnwardMobility CEO who himself is a big fan of the classic Bold 9900.
While smartphone designs has moved far beyond the tiny look and feel of the Bold era where devices now come with a whooping 7-inch displays, inclusion of a physical qwerty on the next-gen BlackBerry with a massive display might just disfigure the device but that’s me talking from a designer’s perspective.
But Franklin made it known that his team is collaborating closely with its partner FIH Mobile and so there are digfferent options about the design of the device while the company is very open to feedbacks from fans and customers alike. “We want to hear from the users,” he said.
As mentioned earlier, OnwardMobility wants to make the world most secured smartphone and that is the top priority from Franklin’s point of view. But the tough competition the company will face straight out of China is just too immerse.
So this will be the most “American-made” smartphone according to Franklin who insisted that the company’s BlackBerry-branded smartphone will be made completely out of Mainland China and i that’s the route the company wants to follow, that means it’s partnership with the FIH Mobile will be possible with the company utilizing its numerous factories in countries like Vietnam or India.
If you remember, there are a number of companies now moving out of China in fact due to numerous sanctions being put on them by the US government. So it seems Franklin wants to pander to the “American only” audience with the statement “We want to be the most American-made phone out there,” he said. “The specifics of that and how we’re enabling that are to come.”
What is yet to be known is whether OnwardMobility will source for components from US companies or just allow its partner FIH to make the device in places closer to America as the FIH production facilities closest to the US is in Chihuahua, Mexico.
Foxconn also own a large plan in Wisconsin even though the factory is more geared towards the production of LCD papnels and components for servers.
But the fact that the device will be the most “American made” smartphone will help the company pander more to the government which wants to focus more on “American-made” products more and that could also have a good impact on the pricing of the device since it’s made within the US borders.
“We want our features in as many of our fans’ hands as possible,” he said. “Price is a huge part of that.” It should be noted, though, that Franklin declined to clarify if he meant competitive for the market at large, or competitive by flagship standards because there is just much more to that.
But still, there had always been BlackBerry die-hard fans who will always go with devices from the brand in as much as it suites their standard.
As for the 5G network support, that will also demand the company partner with carriers with Verizon comign to mind as it’s the only US carrier with the mmWave network.
Franklin though has a big background in software development and he had his era in Microsoft and Zynga but a large portion of the OnwardMobility executives had previously worked at Sonim which is a company that makes rugged smartphones whose devices are often sold to Verizon or AT&T.
Then there is Pam Norris, who serves as Onward’s SVP of product, and had considerable experience working alongside AT&T. Her tenure at Huawei Device USA saw her “define product specifications and feature alignment” with AT&T’s rigorous requirements until the carrier torpedoed its relationship with the Chinese phone maker just before CES 2018.
Although the sit-down with Peter Franklin might have given a much needed insight to the next era of BlackBerry devices by the year 2021, there are still new questions that needed answers as well. But I do personally wish to see what OnwardMobility has to offer by the time it releases its first device which should be in the world-class level in terms of hardware and not just the security.