The BlackBerry Priv has been declared champion in the Tom’s Guide 2016 Smartphone Madness competition, which pits various smartphones against each other in a March Madness style playoff bracket structure to determine the best smartphone.
This latest example of BlackBerry triumphing over its competition is exactly the type of hollow victory that must now come across more as irritating than encouraging to John Chen and his leadership team, as they grin through a strained smile in accepting accolades while the company descends into the kind of existential crisis that has plagued BlackBerry since the arrival of the iPhone.
The win joins a long line of recent acclaim that proves BlackBerry’s status as the kind of phone that critics like, but that don’t particularly enjoy popular success, adding to the recent news that the Priv has won a prestigious Red Dot award for the phone’s design.
All these critical victories make BlackBerry phones the hardware equivalent of TV show “The Wire”, or the discography of Big Star’s Alex Chilton, or the novels of George Orwell, who was finally able to enjoy widespread commercial success shortly after his death.
Funnily enough, the Tom’s Guide competition was not even close, according to writer Philip Michaels.
“Smartphone Madness didn’t come down to a buzzer beater like the shot that propelled Villanova to the men’s national title earlier this week,” writes Michaels. “Instead, the BlackBerry Priv followed the lead of the UConn women’s team, steamrolling the competition on its way to the title.”
The Priv never received less than 69% of the vote in its match-ups on the way to being crowned champion, which was its margin of victory over the Alcatel Idol 4 and 4S during the last round.
The Tom’s Guide original review of the Priv cited its elegant design, its high-density AMOLED display, its physical keyboard, its user friendly interface, and BlackBerry’s reputation for security in naming the Priv “A New Hope”.
Those waiting for a mid-market BlackBerry to follow up the Priv may not have to wait much longer.
BlackBerry CEO John Chen has told The National in Dubai that the company has two mid-range phones in the pipeline to follow what he now regards as a strategic mistake with the Priv, admitting that the phone “was too high-end a product”.
“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,” said Chen. “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’.”
Chen has been saying since 2013 that his objective has been to make BlackBerry’s handset 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 said. “I love our handset business, but we need to make money.”
You’d think BlackBerry’s critical victories would make BlackBerry phones an easier sell with the public. But perhaps BlackBerry is destined to remain a cult classic.