Like Nokia, BlackBerry is a once-dominant device maker which has abandoned its smartphone business in order to pursue software-driven enterprise, IoT and carrier markets (see separate item). But like Nokia, its iconic brand still has some cachet, and is now at the heart of a licensing deal which will see BlackBerry handsets still appearing on the market.
The devices will be made by Chinese manufacturer TCL, which years ago struck a similar deal with Alcatel when the French firm pulled out of handsets. It still uses the brand for a range of low cost smartphones, a year after Alcatel itself, and its name, have been subsumed into Nokia. Indeed, Alcatel claims to be the fourth largest handset brand by unit sales in north America.
BlackBerry officially pronounced its smartphone business dead only this month, and the decision has been a long time coming – one of the few areas where CEO John Chen has been hesitant has been in his unwillingness to ditch the business which made the company great. However, now he has pulled the plug, but sentimentalists will be pleased that, along with Nokia candybar featurephones, they will still be able to buy BlackBerry handsets, some complete with the much-loved keyboards.
TCL said it will make and market its BlackBerry handsets worldwide except in a few markets where BlackBerry itself has already struck licensing deals with local manufacturers. Unfortunately for TCL, this list of exclusions includes two huge device markets, India and Indonesia, along with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
However, TCL will have its native China to target, and some important areas of surviving love for BlackBerry in the Middle East. It already manufactures some BlackBerry models, notably the firm’s last homegrown handsets, the Android-based DTEK50 and DTEK60. Like HMD with Nokia, TCL will continue to run Android on its BlackBerry products, signalling the final demise of proprietary mobile operating systems, with the obvious exception of iOS. Windows Phone does continue to live on in some Microsoft devices, but the recent agreement with Qualcomm, to run fully fledged Windows 10 on handsets, is likely to be the last nail in that coffin too.