BlackBerry Smartphones: End of the Line?



There was a time when getting caught in a Wall Street-area tavern with anything less than a BlackBerry smartphone would have generated chuckles from your barstool companions. With its secure software, physical keyboard and reputation for reliability, the iconic BlackBerry phone was the only choice of the rich and snooty.


Unfortunately, the allure of the BlackBerry mobile brand has faded over the years as Apple’s iPhones and those running Google’s Android platform gobbled up the smartphone market. While BlackBerry itself is still very much standing, its smartphone brand may be reaching the end of the line as OnwardMobility, a company which had partnered with BlackBerry to build a secure 5G smartphone with the BlackBerry nameplate less than two years ago, announced it was shutting down.


In August 2020 OnwardMobility said it would work with FIH Mobile Limited, a subsidiary of Foxconn Technology Group—the same company that builds smartphones and tablets for Apple—to produce the BlackBerry phone by the first half of 2021. The year ended with no product in sight.


Nevertheless, OnwardMobility insisted that the unit was still in the works, going as far as tweeting on Jan. 7 that “…we are not dead." Unfortunately, OnwardMobility recently announced that it was shutting down and that the “ultra-secure smartphone” project was dead.


Since 2016 BlackBerry has been an all-software company, allowing other firms to license and build BlackBerry-branded phones. TCL Communication recently built licensed Android units, some with real keyboards like the BlackBerry KEYone, but that agreement ended in 2020. Now the end of the BlackBerry smartphone line seems near as the brand is currently only available in select markets globally.


The BlackBerry mobile product brand has survived several marketing stumbles. In 2011 BlackBerry introduced the PlayBook, a well-built, 7-inch tablet it thought could challenge Apple’s iPads but turned out to be a sales failure. The PlayBook shipped—inexplicably—without email or calendar software and BlackBerry couldn’t persuade many app publishers to write for its proprietary operating system. BlackBerry recently ended support for older BlackBerry-built mobile products.


The future for BlackBerry smartphones seems dim. But if the brand fades into smartphone history, it will find a place of honor waiting for it in a tech museum—right next to the Texas Instruments four-function calculator and the PalmPilot personal digital assistant.


My tech tips appear regularly in Sree's Sunday Note.


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