BlackBerry CEO John Chen discussed his company’s hardware plans for the coming year during the investor call following a disappointing, but not disastrous quarterly report card today. They didn’t reveal much in the way of new information, but they did indicate that BlackBerry isn’t afraid to go back to the well to revive old ideas in search of, well, old customers.
Chen said that BlackBerry will roll out the Indonesia-only, Foxconn-produced Z3 smartphone around the world after its initial launch, and that it’ll also come in an LTE variant for use with North American cellular networks. The Z3 is launching in Indonesia in April, and is expected to be priced at under $200, which begs the question of how it’ll be priced as a global device. To telegraph global distribution prior to its initial launch must mean that there’s a lot of early interest in the device so far.
Chen also claims that their Q20 concept has gotten good feedback, and he said that the “Classic,” as he refers to it, will likely be ready for Q1 2015. This is another keyboard phone from BlackBerry, which included the dedicated row of hardware buttons and trackpad from legacy BlackBerry devices in addition to a touchscreen and BB10. It’s a mix of old and new with much more of a foot in the past, which is likely designed to re-engage existing customers who might’ve wandered thanks to the very different Q10 and Z10.
Finally, Chen had another announcement about making concessions to the past: His company will ramp up new production runs of the BlackBerry Bold, which is still one of its popular global sellers, meaning BlackBerry 7 OS isn’t quite dead yet. Far from cutting ties with the past and going all in on a new platform, which is the direction BlackBerry seemed to be headed in before Chen took over, the company looks to be playing hardware triage, and hoping for retention instead of accelerating the departure of its most loyal fans.
It could be that this ends in the same place as the more drastic overhaul strategy; dwindling sales and dwindling share. But it could also mean that BlackBerry creates and entrenches itself as a niche hardware player, without the sweeping global reach of before, but with a small, stable dedicated audience of users that will sustain it even without hardware unit growth.