BlackBerry DTEK50 is here: But why am I not surprised?

BlackBerry is a funny little company. Once a juggernaut in the mobile space, it has since fallen from grace. Overwhelming numbers by Android and iOS pushed BlackBerry down into the dreaded “other” category on most pie charts. Many companies would have silently slipped tail between legs and slinked off, but not BlackBerry, and that’s actually one of the thing I admire about the company.

Given the state of the company’s once robust device business I wouldn’t have been surprised if the company just switched off its smartphone segment completely. But having observed the company closely for many years, I am strangely not surprised that Waterloo announced another phone and hinted at more waiting in the wings.

Overwhelming evidence suggests that BlackBerry has hit the canvas so many times, even rapper LL Cool J is saying “Ain’t gonna Comeback”. But here comes Blackberry with another offering – the DTEK50 – with the hopes of selling handsets once more. Some may call it a fool’s errand. I think it’s potentially bold.

The announcement of the BlackBerry DTEK50 shows this company has a rare spirit of dogged perseverance seldom seen in the corporate world these days. I’m no corporate guru to tell you if that is actually good, especially in this case.

Over the past year or so the Canadian firm that once used to lord of large swathes of a nascent smartphone world morphed into a services firm catering primarily to an enterprise audience. Its devices, though good, found themselves out of place in a world where consumers were more bothered about convenience than security. BlackBerry is still the most secure phone, as Angela Merkel and Barack Obama will tell you. It is also immensely durable and has a keyboard that is more intelligent than some smartphone companies itself. But it’s a bit like the old monk under the banyan tree, so full of knowledge and experience but still lost in the present day.

Play the game

BlackBerry has seemingly come to terms with the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy and started shipping Android on its handsets. First the Priv, and now the DTEK50 and both shipping with Android. Heck, BlackBerry’s marketing even calls Android a “feature” so that alone deserves a win. But while the Priv was high-end hardware, the DTEK50 is decidedly midrange. Even the name suggests something more “Home Shopping Network” rather than premium hardware.

The DTEK50, at least on paper, is a decent phone with a $299 price that does not seem out of place. In fact, this price point is where most of the action is in at the moment. So there is promise of volume. But is there enough here to keep a company like BlackBerry interested for more quarters to come? Remember, the smartphone market, especially in growth markets like India and China, is so competitive that even giants like Apple and Samsung can’t afford to take of their thinking caps.

Or maybe what is happening is that BlackBerry is building a healthy portfolio of Android devices so it can offer a full range of devices. Indeed, the Priv is still premium hardware and hardly out of date. No one is criticizing Samsung for having a wide range of offerings, why should we criticize BlackBerry? Even Apple has decided it needs to offer more variety to target a wider range of customers. BlackBerry is simply following suit.

BlackBerry’s biggest opportunity, and challenge, is triggering mass adoption of these secure devices in the enterprise segment. But we can’t be really optimistic about this possibility given that it has not been able to do this with better phones over the past few quarters. We can’t really blame the smartphone maker for this. It is more to do with enterprises realising that trying to secure large number of employees and their devices is a futile exercise. It’s much easier to just live with the threat that something could go wrong. It helps that not many in most enterprises are privy to information that really matters to anyone.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry might do well to concentrate more on its IoT segment. It’s already making inroads here with QNX platform, bringing together everything from smart cars to dumb kettles. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to let go of somethings and move on. I write this with a quiet optimism that BlackBerry will prove me wrong.

What about you?

Are you excited to see the DTEK50? Is a $300 BlackBerry attractive to you? Or is BlackBerry just an OEM that is making YAAP (Yet Another Android Phone)? Will the DTEK50 pave the way out of the darkness that BlackBerry finds itself in? Or is the market already so flooded with midrange offerings that BlackBerry won’t be able to stand out, let alone move forward.

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