It may have become a beloved fixture in the IT World Canada offices, but first-quarter sales were soft for BlackBerry’s latest high-end device, the Android-powered Priv, with CEO John Chen saying in a recent interview that the company plans to return to the mid-range smartphone market this year.

One week after BlackBerry announced that it had sold 700,000 handsets between January and March – the company didn’t specify the number of Privs included in that number, but even 700,000 would be well below the 850,000 sales originally projected by analysts – Chen told Abu Dhabi-based English-language publication the National that in his opinion the Priv was too expensive for its target audience of enterprise customers, and that in response BlackBerry would be launching two mid-range Android devices in the future, one with a physical keyboard and one with a full touchscreen.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen

He did not say when the new smartphones would go on sale.

“The fact that we came out with a high end phone [as our first Android device] was probably not as wise as it should have been,” Chen told the National. “A lot of enterprise customers have said to us, ‘I want to buy your phone but $700 is a little too steep for me. I’m more interested in a $400 device.'”

During the interview, Chen emphasized the Priv’s security benefits, saying that BlackBerry had managed to provide the only secure version of Android on the market and that mobile privacy remained an important feature for enterprise customers.

However, he also admitted that BlackBerry would abandon the smartphone market if its next devices did not make its handsets division profitable.

“If I can’t make it profitable because the market won’t let me, then I’ll get out of the handset business,” he told the National.

While it probably remains best-known to consumers for its iconic handsets, in recent years BlackBerry’s software services division has become its most reliable source of revenue, with the company expecting its software revenue to grow by 30 per cent during the coming year.

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