Preorders have started to ship for the highly anticipated BlackBerry Classic – a device that the Waterloo, Ont.-based company hopes will help it break even by the end of fiscal year 2015 – company executives announced today in New York, NY.
At the official BlackBerry Classic launch event this morning, John Chen, Executive Chairman and CEO and Marty Beard, COO made several announcements that they hope will revitalize the brand and position the smartphone as the much-needed hit device. Chen himself had previously said that the company needed to sell 10 million smartphones each year for its hardware business to remain profitable.
Here’s a breakdown of the four major takeaways from the event.
1. Carriers, Retailers & Pricing
During the conference, Steve Hodges, president of the northeast region mobility at AT&T joined Beard onstage to discuss his own time with the device and confirm its availability on the AT&T network in the United States.
“As we listen to our customers… one thing that we’ve been hearing a lot lately is that customers are really pleased with BlackBerry, and very pleased that BlackBerry is listening to them and starting to deliver upon the promises that they have been asking for,” said Hodges. “It’s an exciting day for customers.”
With slightly less fanfare, Beard confirmed Verizon as another American carrier, as well as Bell, Rogers and Telus back at home.
The device is listed only online and unlocked in the US at $449 through BlackBerry and Amazon. In Canada, retailers include Bell and Rogers, which offer the device at either $49.99 on a 2-year contract or $499 outright. Canadian preorders are still listed at Best Buy and Future Shop.
2. New Features
During the conference, Jeff Gadway, director of product marketing, enterprise said that with the launch of the BlackBerry Classic, the company really focused on three key areas, which are navigation, browsing, and communication.
To achieve this, the company brought back the heavily-touted Bold 9900 keyboard, which, while no longer curved on the Classic, retains many of the shortcuts long-time customers are accustomed to, as well as the call, menu, trackpad, back, and end call keys not found on the Passport.
Browsing has also been improved, with a screen that is 60% bigger than the Bold and loads websites 3x faster, according to the company.
But the largest focus for this segment was new software features that BlackBerry is bringing to enterprise, a key one being BBM Protected.
“BBM Protected is a secure instant messaging solution designed to offer enterprise-grade security between employees within an organization,” said Gadway. He explained that conversations in this mode would have an additional layer of encryption where the keys are controlled by individual companies, and would also allow for encrypted communication between companies. He mentioned several use cases, including secure messaging between doctors at different hospitals, or different types of first responders.
The feature is integrated into the regular BBM app with non-encrypted conversations as well as BlackBerry Blend for messaging between the smartphone and a PC.
“Not even Blackberry could read those messages, even if we wanted to.”
Gadway also talked about the Blend feature that allows for corporate intranet sites to be accessed using a work browser on a personal device, as well as BlackBerry’s VPN access function which uses two-step authentication to replace hardware tokens.
3. Cross-platform app bundles
BlackBerry is not keeping this suite of secure productivity tools to itself, however. It is offering a couple of bundles to iOS and Android users, including the Secure Productivity bundle from which iOS and Android users can access the VPN Authentication and BBM Protected features, but not BlackBerry Blend.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise Communicator bundle allows iOS and Android users to access BBM Meetings and BBM Protected at $12 per month. The latter also does not require BlackBerry Enterprise Server.
4. Enterprise, enterprise, enterprise
In addition to showcasing a slew of enterprise applications available through the BlackBerry World, the company focused heavily on the healthcare sector, including hospitals that are, in many cases, in the process of digitizing.
Richard Tam, executive vice president and COO at Mackenzie Health, a regional healthcare provider in southern Ontario that includes two hospitals and several community services committed to bringing some 500 BlackBerry Classic units to its staff.
“I think what BlackBerry accomplishes is really the highest level of security, which in our business of healthcare, is really important,” Tam said. “With the Classic launch today, I’m really looking forward to adding this particular device to replace our old Bold 9900 devices.”
Bonus: Brick Breaker
But aside from this, the BlackBerry Classic is a “no-nonsense device.”