BlackBerry Mobile unveiled its newest smartphone on Thursday, calculating that a familiar-looking design complete with a physical keyboard will please loyal users while its high-end security features will appeal to younger customers worried about privacy.
The KEY2 is manufactured by the Chinese handset maker TCL Communication, which took over the rights to BlackBerry’s mobile brand when the company left the smartphone market in 2016 to focus on developing security software.
Since then, the brand has tried to claw its way back to relevance by sticking to features that appeal to business users and once made it a powerhouse.
The new offering, revealed in New York, runs Android 8.1 Oreo and is the first BlackBerry to feature a dual-rear camera – now considered standard on even mid-range phones.
The model replaces the KEYone, which was well-received at its launch last year, and suggested there was a following who wanted the keyboard, as well as the security and battery life associated with the brand.
Alain Lejeune, senior vice president of TCL Communication and president of BlackBerry Mobile, said smartphone makers seemed to be locked in a race for uniformity.
“Although there are many different smartphones for consumers to choose from today, most tend to offer very similar experiences without much distinction from one to the next,” he said.
“With the introduction of BlackBerry KEY2, we’ve created a distinct smartphone that captures all the traits that have made BlackBerry smartphones iconic, while introducing new innovations and experiences that not only make this one of the best devices for security and privacy, but also the most advanced BlackBerry smartphone ever.”
The BlackBerry KEY2 will begin shipping globally this month with the suggested retail price starting at 2,399 AED.
Its specifications – a Snapdragon 660 processor, 64 and 128 GB variants, 6 GB of Ram, expandable storage - leaked a day ahead of its New York launch.
Tech websites suggested the processor made it one of the lower powered flagships available but that its advertised two-day battery life and sleek design would prove popular, as would the presence of a 3.5mm headphone jack, a feature being phased out by some other brands.
Earlier this year, a TCL Communication executive told The National that the Middle East market was crucial to BlackBerry Mobile’s success with plans to deepen the company’s presence in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which together account for about five per cent of sales.
It faces a tall order in growing its market share. Last year it accounted for less than 0.1 per cent of smartphone sales, according to industry analysts IDC.
Executives said they believed the new phone would woo former users who abandoned their BlackBerry when its unique operating system failed to keep pace with apps on other platforms, as well as younger, millennial professionals.
“They are disproportionately interested in their privacy,” said Francois Mahieu, chief commercial officer. “It sounds like a paradox – but the younger the user the more they are interested in privacy because they are using their phone for everything.”
Security and privacy is integrated throughout the phone, he said, with the operating system tweaked by BlackBerry and featuring alerts notifying users to unusual activity.
Mike Al Mefleh, BlackBerry Mobile regional director for the Middle East and Turkey, said about 50 per cent of users in the region had come from other phones.
He said the improved Locker app – a privacy app used to store sensitive information, would prove especially popular.
“You know how often it is – especially if I can relate it culturally to the Middle East – that you show someone a picture on your phone and they start scrolling through all pictures on there. With the locker you can take a picture using the finger print system or your password, and you can store in that private folder, which does not get backed up to the cloud.