BlackBerry KEYone – Positioned at the higher end of the mid-range spectrum, BlackBerry’s KEYone handset is an odd mix of concessions and ambitious pricing
I like BlackBerry a lot. Always have done. The company makes solid hardware and brilliant software. I was a huge fan of BB10, despite its shortcomings on the app front, and always look forward to a new BlackBerry release – even more so now that the company is using Android.
BlackBerry’s latest release, the BlackBerry KEYone, is an odd handset, though, as it seems to straddle two rather disconnected worlds: the upper-premium space and hugely competitive mid-range market.
The specs, largely speaking, are mid-range but the price is borderline premium, meaning comparisons to Google’s Pixel, Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 are inevitable. My review unit is coming in the next couple of days, so this is not a critique of the handset, per se; rather, a look at how BlackBerry is positioning it and who its target audience is.
BlackBerry loves the enterprise sector; it’s where the company first made a name for itself and is where it seems most comfortable. BlackBerry still makes its hardware with these guys in mind and that’s fine; the enterprise sector is a huge market.
Thing is: A LOT of enterprise users are now using iPhone and other Android phones. This is a fact and it is also why Microsoft and BlackBerry have almost no share left of the global smartphone space. The days of Microsoft/BlackBerry domination of the corporate world are over, basically.
Do enough people ACTUALLY want a keyboard on their phone? I haven’t seen any research suggesting there is a meaningful niche of people out there – i.e. over a few million – that actually factor in whether a phone has a physical keyboard or not before buying one.
I like using a keyboard on a smartphone; I loved the BlackBerry Q10 when that came out and I was also a big fan of the BlackBerry Passport. But I do kind of think the whole, woah-it’s-got-a-QWERTY-keyboard-ship has kind of sailed. Sure, no-one else is doing it. But when no-one else is doing something you have to ask yourself why?
No one sells computers made out of bacon either, but that doesn’t mean there’s a niche for it.
Where BlackBerry Excels
BlackBerry’s command of Android is immensely impressive. No other Google partner is quite as good in this regard. BlackBerry brings tons of excellent, meaningful features into the mix, things that made BB10 awesome to use every day, and this makes the experience of using an Android-powered BlackBerry phone truly great.
The only problem is that all Android-powered BlackBerry phones released to date have been problematic; none have been exceptional; most were passible but ultimately forgettable. And this is no good. This is not how you re-establish yourself as a key player in the Android space.
In fact, the last truly great handset that BlackBerry made was the Passport – and that didn’t even run Android. Why not just re-release the BlackBerry Passport, or something similar, at a lower price point with Android? Use something that worked, rather than trying to reinvent the QWERTY phone every year.
And Then There’s The Samsung Problem
Samsung sells more phones than anyone else on the planet. More than Apple, more than Huawei and more than LG.
But here’s the rub: Apple makes more money – WAY more money – from iPhones than the three biggest Android OEMs combined.
Why? Simple: Apple controls the hardware AND software. So any transactions that are made on an iPhone line Apple’s pockets.
This is why BlackBerry persisted with BB10 for so long; it knew that it was next to impossible to make money with Android. To be a true player in the mobile space you need to own and control both the software and hardware.
This is why you don’t see Microsoft using Android.
So… Is The BlackBerry KEYone Too Expensive?
For the specs on offer, yes. It is absolutely too expensive.
The OnePlus 3T offers far more bang for your buck, providing you don’t mind the absence of a keyboard – and it turns out a lot of people don’t. In addition to this, Apple’s iPhone and the Google Pixel are only marginally more expensive (especially on contract) and both make a more compelling argument for your money.
I am really looking forward to testing this handset out. But I don’t really understand the pitch of it in terms of its place in the market; BlackBerry needs to find something new and different to push. As important as security and privacy is these days, the vast majority of consumers simply do not care – they’re more interested in battery life, imaging and price.
And to make matters worse, the mobile space feels, more and more each day, completely sewn up and locked down by two (or three, at a push) players, leaving scant opportunity for bit-players like BlackBerry. And, sadly, I believe this fact would still ring true despite what BlackBerry came to market with or how well it was priced.
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