BlackBerry KEYone’s Success Rely Entirely On its Keyboard

The first reviews of the new KEYone BlackBerry handset appeared this week, as well as the early agreement is the fact that this device will attract BlackBerry fans who need its recognizable physical QWERTY keyboard coupled with the functionality of Google’s Android operating system.

This handset technically isn’t a true BlackBerry — it’s the first device from TCL since it entered a licensing agreement with BlackBerry Limited, once Research In Motion, the manufacturer of the initial BlackBerry handsets. TCL’s license arrangement covers the name and hardware patents, for instance, QWERTY keyboard. BlackBerry still supplies the backend program, but the KEYone runs the Android OS under its BlackBerry skin.

The KEYone has the look of a classic BlackBerry. It features a 4.5-inch scratch-resistant screen, an 8-MP front camera with flash memory, a 12-MP autofocus big-pixel back camera, a fingerprint scanner and BlackBerry security software.

It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 625 Octa-Core 2.0 GHz CPU with a 64-bit Adreno 506, 650-MHz GPU. It’s 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of flash memory.

The KEYone is preloaded with BlackBerry programs, in addition to regular Android programs including Google Chrome, Google Maps, and Gmail. It can run on LTE and CDMA networks. It supports Bluetooth 4.2, NFC, WiFi and even FM radio.

The BlackBerry KEYone became available earlier this year in Canada. It’s going to reach the shelves next month in America for US$549 unlocked.

The KEYone’s greatest strength might be the inclusion of the actual physical QWERTY keyboard.

“The BlackBerry KeyOne feels like it was assembled by BlackBerry, which means TCL did a great job keeping things recognizable,” Todd Haselton wrote in his review for CNBC.

“The highlight of the device is its hardware backlit keyboard, which some people apparently still need in a smartphone,” he added.

“A BlackBerry with no computer keyboard is similar to a ThinkPad without the pointing stick,” wrote Brian Heater for TechCrunch.

Yet, going from a virtual keyboard to a physical computer keyboard presented a challenge.

“It is really difficult to move back to typing on a QWERTY keyboard,” described CNBC’s, Haselton. “And unlike the BlackBerry Priv, which offered a software keyboard alternative, it’s necessary for you to abide by the hardware here.”

While it may excite longtime BlackBerry users who want the tactile experience of a physical keyboard, it’s not likely that the KEYone will shake up the marketplace.

“It is a market product,” said Steve Blum, founder and principal analyst at Tellus Venture Associates.

“The KEYone has a display size as well as physical computer keyboard that is optimized for e-mail. It is not just a nostalgia mobile, such as the Nokia 3310, but it’s a retro merchandise,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Sending e-mail using a physical computer keyboard was the entry point into the cellular technology world for a lot of Gen Xers and baby boomers, and lots of them might find comfort in the KEYone, proposed Blum.

That could help keep up the product line — but just to a stage.

“Whether it will sell well enough to keep BlackBerry in the smartphone game is not the same question,” Blum said. “The solution is dependent upon whether BlackBerry’s investors will probably be pleased with a niche job in the cellular telephone marketplace.”

Essential Differences

The KEYone probably will don’t have any allure for iPhone users, or for Android users who would like the functionality of a substantial touchscreen.

“Certainly, it’s for the loyalists out there,” said Ramon T. Llamas, research manager for wearables and mobile phones at IDC.

“We are not anticipating it to light the world on fire, even as some folks said this is the device that should have come out years past. We can not rewind time,” he told TechNewsWorld, “but we can see that there are those business users who are typing hounds and will need the device for its physical keyboard.”

This really is not the first Android device running BlackBerry applications, noted Ian Fogg, senior manager for mobile and telecoms at IHS Markit.

Nevertheless, “this is actually the very first non-slipping ancient BlackBerry using a computer keyboard below the screen,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Cost is the largest problem, as $550 is a good deal to consume,” noted IDC’s Llamas. “Yes, it’s more economical than Samsung Galaxy S8, but arguably that’s a distinct sort of customer. Nevertheless, BlackBerry used the same pattern to target business users using an alternative selection years past.”

Essential Strategy

The KEYone is the first authorized BlackBerry device, and as such it’s a risk both for BlackBerry Limited and for handset manufacturer TCL.

“This matters more to TCL than BlackBerry,” said IDC’s Llamas, “but no matter the way the sales are, BlackBerry (the business) will reap the permit earnings.”

Yet, additionally, it will enable TCL, which historically has been making telephones for the consumer marketplace, to pivot toward business users, he pointed out.

TCL Won’t tolerate all the danger, however.

“If this was a conventional licensing agreement, then that would be accurate,” described IHS Markit’s, Fogg.

“While we do not understand the conditions of the deal, beyond the prices there’s the brand hazard. Whether this handset does badly, or there are problems, it might damage the brand; so the brand danger is there, even if there’s not an actual financial threat,” he clarified.

“The Priv and also the DTEK60 did not do all that well, and there isn’t any indication to the carrier that this will do much better either,” Fogg included. “Just becoming sufficient supply and convincing providers to provide the KEYone with a contract plan will be the huge challenge. Without that distribution, it’s definitely going to be merely a market device.”

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