BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB)(NASDAQ:BBRY) announced the much-anticipated keyboard device at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona this past weekend, even providing reviewers with the name for the device previously known as the Mercury.
Meet the KEYone
The KEYone is the name given to the new device, which was built by TCL Communications through the global branding agreement with BlackBerry. The device carries the BlackBerry name and, oddly enough, much of the confusion that plagued the company (and arguably contributed to its fall from grace).
In addition to the iconic keyboard, the KEYone includes a fingerprint sensor, and the keyboard can double up as an input method for swiping and navigating. The device also runs the latest version of Android Nougat 7.1 and comes with BlackBerry’s suite of security and productivity apps.
The KEYone also has the usual features found in most modern smartphones with a respectable three GB of RAM and 32 GB of storage that is expandable to two TB. The device also sports a massive battery; given the size of the screen, the battery should keep the device charged throughout a full day.
The device is aimed at the mid-tier users that want a keyboard, and while this may appeal to users longing for that full keyboard experience, the pricing is anything but mid-tier.
BlackBerry noted that the global launch of the device will be in April with a recommended price of US$549. There was no mention of a pre-ordering period, and the two-month gap between now and April also means competitor devices that were set to be announced in the March-April period will now be available before this BlackBerry device which potential customers first saw a glimpse of last month at the CES show.
Yes, BlackBerry just announced a mid-tier device two months early without pre-ordering, which has a price tag more in line with a flagship premium offering, and it will more than likely be available for purchase after the next wave of flagship devices from competitors are released.
Based on previous device announcements, this is textbook BlackBerry.
What does this launch mean for BlackBerry?
Followers of the beleaguered company that were expecting the KEYone to be a Hail Mary will no doubt be disappointed, as will others that thought the partnership with TCL would ultimately result in more aggressive — or rather, realistic — pricing. Sadly, it’s more of the same from BlackBerry, but unlike previous launches, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
Prior to the agreement with TCL, the hardware division was one of BlackBerry’s core sources of revenue, and many still see BlackBerry primarily as a manufacturer of smaller, keyboard-based smartphones.
In the past year, BlackBerry has transformed into a software-first company, steadily increasing revenues from that segment while realizing cost savings from finally shuttering of the hardware division.
Recent reports on mobile operating-system usage also show that BlackBerry is not even on the list anymore. The approximate 200,000 hardware sales the company had in the last quarter are more of a rounding error in terms of the global market.
In short, BlackBerry no longer needs hardware to survive and is healthier without it. The company’s renewed focus on enterprise, security, and opening the once-closed suite of security and productivity applications to users on non-BlackBerry-branded devices will provide more opportunity and growth prospects over any new hardware release.
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Fool contributor Demetris Afxentiou has no position in any stocks mentioned.