I tease BlackBerry a lot but I’m actually hoping the company is successful. Why? Because I think it serves an important niche and its devices make customers within that niche very happy. And under CEO John Chen, the company has embraced its role as a niche player and has stopped trying to desperately keep up with Apple and Google, which is a fight that it was destined to lose pretty much from the start.
This brings me to the just-unveiled BlackBerry Classic. It’s easy to poke fun at this device for being a throwback version of a smartphone relic, because in a lot of ways it is. Even though BlackBerry has released smartphones with physical keyboards over the past two years, this is the first one it’s released with a track pad and function keys in quite some time. Throw in the fact that BlackBerry is touting the return of Brick Breaker as a key feature and it’s tempting to laugh off the device as something stuck in the past.
What’s more, BlackBerry is actively positioning the device as a replacement for old BlackBerry Bold models that were released more than three years ago. In fact, as you can see below, BlackBerry has put together an entire video that directly compares the Classic to the ancient Bold 9900.
But here’s the thing: There are a lot of professionals who still use the Bold 9900 today because it is still a great device for their specific needs, mostly related to quick messaging and secure communications. These particular professionals passed on upgrading to BlackBerry 10 devices because they either lacked physical keyboards (as with the Z10 and the Z30) or they lacked the traditional track pads and function keys (as with the Q10).
Those of us who have been using iOS and Android phones with touch interfaces for years aren’t going to be intrigued by these features… but there are a lot of people who are. Wealthy people from Google chairman Eric Schmidt to Kim Kardashian have all expressed their love for QWERTY-equipped BlackBerry phones as secure messaging devices. Barack Obama, David Cameron and Angela Merkel all still use BlackBerry phones, as do plenty of important people in the financial services industry.
So if you have heads of state, Wall Street execs, one of Hollywood’s most infamous personalities and the chairman of one of the world’s biggest tech companies as potential customers… that’s not a bad market to start out with!
And this is what I liked most about what I saw from BlackBerry today — it’s actively trying to re-brand BlackBerry as a status symbol for corporate America, just as it was during its heyday. Check out this video that pairs the Classic with well tailored suits, high-end sports cars and the inside of a Steinway piano. The message is simple: The Classic may look dated, but it stands the test of time.
Again, none of this is to say that BlackBerry will experience a major comeback. It’s lost a lot of subscribers over the years and brand images are hard to repair once they’re broken. But ever since Chen took over I’ve seen more clear focus and direction at BlackBerry than anything I saw over the three years prior. As someone who would love to see BlackBerry thrive in its own niche, that’s a good thing.