BlackBerry has a couple of new smartphones in the offing, including the first sourced from new strategic partner Foxconn. The first Foxconn BlackBerry is the Z3, a Nokia-like touchscreen smartphone with rounded sides, a 5-inch qHD display, a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor, 1.5GB of RAM and 8GB of on board storage.
The Z3 is targeted specifically at customers in Indonesia, which is where the phone will launch first. It runs BlackBerry OS 10.2.1, has a 5.5 megapixel rear and 1.1 megapixel front camera, boasts an internal FM radio and will cost only $200 off contract. Basically, it offers what looks like capable hardware running the same OS that BlackBerry offers on its flagship hardware, but for a price that’s bound to be much more palatable to the Indonesian market.
The proof will be in how the new Foxconn device works, however; there’s always the risk that hardware and software are poorly married when so much of the device is in the hands of a third-party partner. But if it succeeds, BlackBerry could have a new weapon in its arsenal to help it shore up losses in some of its strongest device markets. Indonesia is a key market for BlackBerry, but its market share in the country had slipped to 14 percent as of 2013 per IDC, down from a record high of 43 percent in 2011. Much of that ground was ceded to Android, which now enjoys 83 percent share in the market.
The other new BlackBerry revealed today, the Q20, is aimed at a more general audience. It’s a hardware QWERTY smartphone like the Q10 (and its successor, at least numerically) and no specific mention of Foxconn is made in the release describing the smartphone. It has a 3.5-inch touchscreen, which is larger than the 3.1-inch display on the Q10, as well as new hardware Menu, Back, Send and End buttons, along with an integrated trackpad. The addition of a trackpad will come as welcome news to legacy BlackBerry fans, I’d imagine. The Q20 is also said to boast a larger battery, and should ship in the second half of the year. BlackBerry is keeping other details under wraps at the moment.
It’ll be interesting to see how BlackBerry manages to fit the keyboard, larger screen and new physical controls all on a device that still fits neatly in the hand. Still, this looks like a smart move in terms of stemming the loss of BlackBerry loyalists – the original Q10 was the device many of them waited for because of its hardware keyboard, but I still heard complaints from more than one owner about the loss of the trackpad/trackball compared to legacy devices. That said, I don’t think regressing hardware-wise is likely to attract many new fans to smartphone maker.
A hardware turnaround for BlackBerry may be an impossible task at this point, but both of these device announcements make it seem like CEO John Chen is doing the best he can with limited resources and a shaky foundation. The Z3 in particular will be the one to watch in terms of performance, since it should help indicate if there’s any potential for actual growth left in the BlackBerry brand.