BlackBerry says it will stop making its Classic smartphone, less than two years after launching it with much fanfare.
John Chen introducing the Classic in 2014. A company official now says that “the Classic has long surpassed the average lifespan for a smartphone in today’s market.” (BRENDAN MCDERMID / REUTERS)
“The Classic has long surpassed the average lifespan for a smartphone in today’s market,” Ralph Pini, the company’s chief operating officer and general manager for devices, said in a company blog post.
The Classic was updated version of the original that made the company a smartphone leader before Apple Inc. entered the scene. Chief executive John Chen introduced the Classic after joining the company in 2013, bringing back the raised-button keyboard that BlackBerry enthusiasts loved, and which his predecessor, Thorsten Heins, let fall by the wayside with his push to full touch-screen devices.
But Pini said in his post, “We are ready for change so we can give our customers something better.”
The Waterloo, Ont.-based firm will now focus on updating its smartphone lineup, Pini said.
The BlackBerry Classic hit the market in December 2014, offering customers a 3.5-inch screen — 60 per cent larger than the previous BlackBerry Bold 9900 — longer battery life and a standard keyboard and touch screen.
BlackBerry has faced calls to stop making cellphones in favour of focusing on its burgeoning software business, but CEO John Chen recently reaffirmed his commitment to stay in the hardware market. In its most recent quarter of its 2017 financial year, the company sold roughly 500,000 smartphones, about 100,000 smartphones fewer than the previous quarter. However, Chen has said he believes a new venture to license BlackBerry’s mobile software to other companies can help turn its mobile business segment profitable this fiscal year, which ends in February.
BlackBerry is expected to release two new mid-range, Android-powered smartphones before the end of February. More information on the devices is expected this month. The company will continue to support its BlackBerry 10 operating system with software updates, with a new version scheduled for release in August, Pini said.
U.S. Senate is making the switch from BlackBerry to Android or iPhone
Meanwhile, in a decision that may be related to Blackberry’s announcement, the U.S. Senate is finally making the switch from BlackBerry to Android or iPhone, a change most smartphone users made years ago. Senate staff will no longer receive new BlackBerry phones, according to a memo from the Senate Sergeant at Arms sent last week to administrative managers, chief clerks and system administrators that was posted by Politico and blogger Jim Swift. The reason, according to the memo: BlackBerry told telecom carriers Verizon and AT&T that production of all Blackberry OS 10 devices (Q10, Z10, Z30, Passport and Classic) is being discontinued and future fulfillment can’t be guaranteed.
But in a statement reported on by USA Today, BlackBerry said it’s only stopping production of the Classic.
“We have informed our U.S. carriers that the manufacturing cycle of only our BlackBerry Classic will cease” while “we continue to actively support sales of our BlackBerry 10 smartphones to customers in most markets. We are focused on software updates for BlackBerry 10, with version 10.3.3 scheduled for next month, and a second update to follow next year,” it said.
Senate staffers can use the remaining phones in stock, and will continue to receive uninterrupted warranty and technical support, for the “foreseeable future,” the memo said. Staffers can transition to Samsung S6 Android phones or Apple’s iPhone SE, the memo said. It’s not clear what fate awaits the U.S. House’s BlackBerry loyalists.
BlackBerry has long fallen out of fashion for most smartphone users
The BlackBerry has long fallen out of fashion for most smartphone users, forcing a management shake-up at the Canadian tech company, rounds of layoffs, and a turnaround strategy focused on secure software. BlackBerry reported a loss of $671 million and an over 30 per cent drop in revenue during the three months ended May 31. It sold 500,000 phones in that period. In contrast, Apple sold 51 million iPhones in its latest quarter. Still, the BlackBerry has been a staple in Congress due to its long battery life, prominence of email and easy-to-use keyboard.
It also has a reputation for being one of the most secure products available, as it has been fully encrypted for at least a decade. In an interview with USA TODAY last year, BlackBerry CEO John Chen said the company relies on the heads of state and government in developed countries like the U.S. to stay loyal to the phone, due to its top of the line security features.
“If we can secure the device, it makes securing the software and the data management . . . that much more easier,” Chen said. “This is why all the governments in the major developed countries are using our devices. You can see the heads of state using our devices.”