Blackberry keyboard to make a comeback on a new 5G phone

Deal agreed with Foxconn-owned FIH Mobile and US-based OnwardMobility will see the new handset rolled out in the first half of next year

Since 2016, BlackBerry switched focus to software and other sectors, including autonomous vehicles. AFP
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A Blackberry phone with a physical keyboard will re-enter the market following a tie-up between the Canadian software firm, Foxconn-owned FIH Mobile and Texas-based technology start-up, OnwardMobility.

The 5G-enabled smartphone, which will run with the Android operating system, will be available in the first half of next year.

Ontario-based Blackberry, which stopped making phones in 2016, had licensed the brand and rights to Chinese manufacturer TCL but its contract is ending on August 31. This clears the way for the new companies to move in.

“BlackBerry smartphones are known for protecting communications, privacy, and data ... this is an incredible opportunity to bring next-generation 5G devices to market with the backing of BlackBerry and FIH Mobile,” Peter Franklin, chief executive of OnwardMobility, said.

BlackBerry – an early provider of messaging services and mobile email devices – was once a leader in mobile technology but rivals such as Samsung and Apple squeezed its market share over the years.

It has since switched its focus to software and other sectors, including autonomous vehicles.

“BlackBerry is thrilled OnwardMobility will deliver a 5G smartphone device with physical keyboard leveraging our high standards of trust and security synonymous with our brand,” said John Chen, executive chairman and chief executive of BlackBerry.

“Customers will experience the enterprise and government-level security and mobile productivity the new BlackBerry 5G smartphone will offer,” he added.

OnwardMobility will do the product planning, sales and marketing for BlackBerry smartphones, while FIH Mobile will design and manufacture the devices and look after the supply chain.

At first, the product will only be launched in North America and Europe. A timetable for a rollout into other regions was not given.

“We are committed to delivering new BlackBerry 5G devices to market, utilising our deep expertise in design, manufacturing, component supply and logistics management,” said Wen-Yi Kuo, executive director of FIH Mobile.

Global smartphone sales plummeted 16 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, industry analysts said the wider availability of 5G phones could improve overall sales.

Many smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung, Huawei, Oppo and OnePlus already sell 5G phones. Apple has yet to make an official announcement about its first 5G model.

A 5G network promises an internet speed of up to 1.2 gigabits per second, which will gradually reach 10Gbps — more than 100 times faster than 4G.

“Companies are rapidly investing in transformative technologies to improve productivity, but often don’t place enough emphasis on security, particularly in their use of mobile devices,” said Jack Gold, president of US-based consultancy J Gold Associates.

“With 5G quickly coming to market … deploying proven and highly secure products like the BlackBerry 5G devices in enterprises, government and regulated industries like finance or legal, are mission-critical," said Mr Gold.