BlackBerry will release a low-cost phone in Indonesia in April and plans a broader release of a phone that restores a beloved row of control keys with a track pad.
The Indonesia phone, the Z3, will sell for less than $200 without subsidies, the company said Tuesday. It will later expand to other markets in southeast Asia. BlackBerry Ltd. CEO John Chen said a version with faster, 4G connectivity is planned for the rest of the world “sometime in the future before I die.”
It’s the first phone made under a new five-year partnership with Foxconn, the Taiwanese company that assembles products in vast factories in China.
Meanwhile, Chen said it will restore the keys in a new phone he termed “Classic.” He said the new Q20 is a response to lackluster sales of last year’s Q10, which has a physical keyboard but lacks the track pad or keys for functions such as going back. He said the company got many complaints about that.
BlackBerry also announced plans to expand its services for businesses needing secure communications, particularly in regulated industries such as health care and financial services. There are plans, for instance, to go beyond securing just email and messaging.
It’s part of the company’s plan to focus on its strengths in business services. BlackBerry Ltd. strayed from that as it tried to lure consumers with new devices.
The BlackBerry was the dominant smartphone for on-the-go business people and other consumers before Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, showing that phones could handle much more than email and calls. BlackBerry was slow in modernizing its operating system, and once it did, the much-hyped system flopped.
Chen was brought in as CEO late last year after talks to sell the company collapsed. Although he has been credited with turning around Sybase, a data company that was sold to SAP in 2010, Chen has acknowledged that reviving BlackBerry will be his most “complicated” challenge.
In the latest quarter, ending Nov. 30, BlackBerry Ltd. reported a $4.4 billion loss and a 56 percent drop in revenue. But the company said it had plenty of cash to engineer a turnaround.
The new partnership with Foxconn will help reduce much of BlackBerry’s manufacturing costs. Foxconn, known for its manufacturing contract work on Apple’s iPhones and iPads, will jointly design and manufacture most BlackBerry devices and manage inventory of the devices.
Chen said BlackBerry will now target the heavily regulated industries that require greater security. It will simplify its pricing and let people upgrade to the latest systems for free this year. It will also offer free services this year for companies that had left BlackBerry for rivals.
BlackBerry Ltd said it will make its messaging service BBM available to Microsoft’s Windows Phone and the upcoming Nokia X platforms in the coming months.
BlackBerry Messaging, or BBM, is a messaging platform that offers collaboration tools such as BBM Groups, BBM Voice and BBM Channels and competes with services such as WhatsApp, whichFacebook bought last week for $19 billion.
BBM will be available as a free download from the Windows Phone Store this summer, while BBM forNokia X will be available from the Nokia Store when the Nokia X platform launches, BlackBerry said in a statement on Monday.
BBM was a pioneering mobile-messaging service, but its user base has failed to keep pace with that of WhatsApp and other upstarts, in part because BlackBerry had long refused to open the service to users on other platforms.
WhatsApp, with a user base of about 450 million, on the other hand has grown rapidly. Its service works on Apple Inc’s iOS platform, Google Inc’s market-dominating Android operating system and with devices powered by both the Windows and BlackBerry operating systems.
BBM remains popular, even though BlackBerry devices have waned in popularity. Late last year, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company finally opened the messaging platform to users of iPhones and Android devices, and the number of the service’s active users has grown to more than 80 million.
Japanese mobile operator NTT Docomo said Friday that the launch of a new smartphone operating system to rival Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS had been pushed back owing to development delays. The open source offering called Tizen, based on the Linux operating system, is the product of a tie-up between companies from Japan, China, South Korea, Europe and the United States. The consortium that makes up Tizen Association include Docomo, US giant Intel, Japan’s Fujitsu, South Korea’s Samsung and LG, China’s Huawei, and European mobile carriers Vodafone and Orange.
Docomo’s president had previously said he hoped the new system would launch by the end of the current fiscal year to March. NTT Docomo spokesman Jun Otori had at the time told AFP, “With Tizen, we hope to revitalise Japanese-developed services and create new services more freely.”
But that March timeline is being pushed back because Docomo is still “developing products that would maximise the features of the Tizen”, company spokesman Jun Otori told AFP. Tizen is among a handful of new smartphone platforms expected to hit the market this year to challenge the stranglehold of Android and iOS.
“Unlike Android and iOS, Tizen allows us to develop freely whatever we envision because it is an open-source operating system,” says Otori.
The Android and iOS account for more than 90 percent of the smartphone market, with BlackBerry and Microsoft’s Windows Phone vying for third spot. Phones using operating systems based on the open-source platforms Linux and Mozilla’s Firefox are due out this year, most likely in emerging markets.