A security startup called OnwardMobility has come from the blue to announce it has plans to release a new 5G BlackBerry Android phone in 2021 and yes, it’s going to have a physical keyboard.
The Texan company will resurrect the BlackBerry brand through a licensing agreement that lets them use the name. The agreement is between OnwardMobility, BlackBerry, and FIH Mobile Limited, a subsidiary of Foxconn.
From 2016-2020 TCL had a similar deal that saw it release BlackBerry branded phones through a similar agreement but announced earlier this year that no more phones would come of the partnership.
“Enterprise professionals are eager for secure 5G devices that enable productivity, without sacrificing the user experience,” said Peter Franklin, CEO of OnwardMobility. “BlackBerry smartphones are known for protecting communications, privacy, and data. This is an incredible opportunity for OnwardMobility to bring next-generation 5G devices to market with the backing of BlackBerry and FIH Mobile.”
Colour us, and the industry, sceptical. Although devices like the KeyOne and Key2 were well received they remained niche and must not have sold many units considering TCL ditched the whole deal after just four years. It only released phones in 2017 and 2018.
“It’s hard to see how someone else is going to be able to make a success of it in the current market,” said Ben Wood, chief of research at analyst firm CCS Insight who said that the keyboard on the BlackBerry devices is it’s only real differentiator in 2020.
“Even that is going to be a hard sell given most users are now comfortable typing on a touch screen and the trade off in terms of screen real-estate in a world when it’s all about the content on the display is a big one when you have to add a physical keyboard,” he added.
We’ll probably review it, but as time marches on the market need for a phone with a physical keyboard is slim. This could well be OnwardMobility’s shot at some publicity rather than a sustainable business venture.