BlackBerry CEO John Chen Talks Up Q20 and Z3 Phones Coming This Year
BlackBerry CEO John Chen on Tuesday announced plans for two new phones coming this year, the first results of a partnership with Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn.
The first of the new devices, a 3G model code-named Jakarta, will cost less than $200 unsubsidized and go on sale in Indonesia in April. An LTE version will follow, CEO John Chen said at an event at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. That phone, to be sold as the Z3, is an all-touch device being made by Foxconn.
“We have 100 percent confidence in BlackBerry,” Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou said at the event.
A second phone, the BlackBerry Q20 (though Chen calls it the BlackBerry Classic), will have a more traditional keyboard and trackpad and is due out before the end of the year. It will also be made by Foxconn “unless they price it too high,” Chen joked.
Chen also said there are some more premium products in the works. “We do have a few high-end devices that we are working on, but I am unable to show you and share with you right now,” Chen said.
Customers shouldn’t expect a watch from BlackBerry anytime soon.
“I don’t have a plan for wearables, at least not yet,” Chen said.
Nor is the company looking to reach the lowest end of the market, such as phones costing $75.
“That’s not our sweet spot,” he said.
On the server side, BlackBerry announced plans for a new product, BES12, that will support BlackBerrys old and new, as well as Android, iPhones and Windows Phones. The company also said it is simplifying its pricing to two options — silver and gold, with the latter being its regulated and secure option. Customers can also choose to opt for a subscription, starting at $19 per user per year for silver and $60 per user per year for the gold option, or buy a perpetual license. (Chen initially said those were the monthly, not yearly, prices.)
Aiming to get its older customers to upgrade, BlackBerry is launching an “Easy Pass” option allowing those using older versions of their software to upgrade for free. Those who have switched to a rival device management service can also trade in for BlackBerry’s latest server software. Both upgrade options require customers to sign up for a service contract with BlackBerry, though it is waiving the costs for this year.
Chen took some shots at rivals, particularly Good Technology.
“Good is not good enough,” Chen said, saying that BlackBerry’s security is more complete.
He also took a further shot at T-Mobile, noting that BlackBerry continues to see its relationship improve with the top two U.S. carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless.
“The two major carriers and us, our relationships are getting better by the day,” he said. “That strategy will continue to work for us.”
As for his jabs at T-Mobile, he said he didn’t start the fight. “I just happened to continue on the conversation.”
BlackBerry also said it is developing a series of BBM messaging services for businesses, including BBM Protected, a subscription-based business instant messaging service due before the summer of this year. More products will come later in the year, BlackBerry said.
Chen said the company is still talking about ways to bring more of its enterprise services to other platforms, but Chen said that it would be going too far to say there is a plan for that.
He added that is not the highest-order priority and, later, said that many of BlackBerry’s problems in the past stemmed from spreading itself too thin.
In addition, the company had so much attention devoted to launching the first BB10 devices it devoted too little attention to business customers.
“That’s not going to be anymore,” Chen said.
Chen also reiterated his goal of becoming cash-flow positive by the end of the current fiscal year and then to be profitable in the following year.
“I am steadfastly going after that,” he said.
BlackBerry also says it wants to move beyond managing BlackBerry and other mobile devices into also helping those that create business applications for mobile devices. BlackBerry sees writing business applications of its own, particularly in finance and other regulated industries where it is focused.
Chen outlined his strategy for BlackBerry in an interview at CES. It’s a strategy that includes focusing more on business customers, outsourcing much of the company’s handset manufacturing to Foxconn and getting BBM chat software onto a wide range of devices.
As for the device business, Chen noted that not all companies are letting workers choose their own devices, saying that 30 percent of businesses still dictate what devices workers can use.
“We want to focus on that 30 percent … but we do not want to lose the rest of that market,” he said, noting efforts to manage all manner of devices and serve up BBM on various products.
After Facebook’s $19 billion WhatsApp purchase, Chen quipped that perhaps BlackBerry should change its name to BBM.
“That might move the stock,” Chen said.
BlackBerry’s event is still taking place. Check back for updates.
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