In a blog post this morning BlackBerry Chief Operating Officer and General Manager for Devices, Ralph Pini, announced that “after many successful years in the market, we will no longer manufacture BlackBerry Classic.”
The Classic was introduced in 2014, bringing back the physical keyboard, and modeled on the Bold 9900 except with a larger screen, better battery life and more responsive software.
With the tenor of someone who has to break the news that the family dog has been put down, Pini writes, “the Classic has long surpassed the average lifespan for a smartphone in today’s market. We are ready for this change so we can give our customers something better – entrenched in our legacy in security and pedigree in making the most productive smartphones.”
Indeed, BlackBerry has been leaking rumours of not only two new phones, presumably Android devices in a BlackBerry container, much like the more expensive Priv, but three new mid-market phones released one at a time, all coming out before the end of BlackBerry’s fiscal year in March 2017.
Pini’s blog post is entitled “Change is Only Natural: A Classic Model Makes Way”, which has the ring of the conversation you’ll be having with your 10-year-old son on the day that you have to tell him, “Remember Grandma? You like Grandma, didn’t you? Well, don’t be sad but Grandma won’t be around anymore. She’s in a much better place now.”
“Sometimes it can be very tough to let go,” writes Pini. “For BlackBerry, and more importantly for our customers, the hardest part in letting go is accepting that change makes way for new and better experiences.”
For BlackBerry loyalists, the issue this year and into 2017 is less likely to involve shedding the pain they feel over the loss of the Classic than whether they think it might be time to consider “letting go” of BlackBerry altogether.
Getting rid of the Classic for BlackBerry might be seen as an admission of defeat if the company weren’t ramping up development on three new, distinctly unClassic make-or-break phones to be released over the coming year.
But dropping the Classic from BlackBerry’s device lineup is basically like Coca-Cola announcing that not only is the company ceasing production of Classic Coke, but the only flavour available from now on will be New Coke.
Oh, you preferred Classic? Well, perhaps you’ll learn to enjoy New Coke. We’re not making Classic anymore.
With a sub-1% share of the smartphone market, though, it seems like the only reason BlackBerry loyalists still cling to their phones is because of how well the hardware once worked with the BB10 operating system.
“Dropping the Classic from BlackBerry’s device lineup is basically like Coca-Cola announcing that not only is the company ceasing production of Classic Coke, but the only flavour available from now on will be New Coke.”
With the release of the Priv last year, which is essentially an Android phone with a BlackBerry “design”, and the three new pending models promising mid-range versions of the same, BlackBerry loyalists may rightly start to wonder, “Well, why don’t I just cut to the chase and get an Android phone? What’s the point of a BlackBerry if it’s just a hybridized container for an Android operating system?”
“We continue to actively support BlackBerry 10 with software updates and are on track to deliver version 10.3.3 next month with a second update to follow next year,” writes Pini, before citing the BlackBerry pedigree as a justification for “the reasons why we are committed to the success of both BlackBerry 10 and Android devices.”
While most BlackBerry users continue to lament BB 10’s slow death through the lack of support and a tiny app development ecosystem, Pini’s expression of commitment to both BlackBerry 10 and Android should sound reassuring.
But as John Chen has made clear, if BlackBerry’s handset division can’t turn a profit “this year”, i.e. this fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, then it may be time to concentrate on building out the divisions of the company that do work and say goodbye to hardware.
In BlackBerry’s first quarter, the handset division reported a US$21 million operating loss on revenues of US$152 million, with an adjusted loss of US$1 million, taking into account BlackBerry’s other more profitable divisions.
BlackBerry recorded device sales of approximately 500,000 units with an average sales price of $290, down from 600,000 in Q4 2016 and 700,000 in Q3.
BlackBerry’s base of phone users has fallen to 23 million from 79 million in 2012.
Whether it can increase that user base with the introduction of three new devices, and perhaps some effort at marketing, remains to be seen.
The writing on the wall for BlackBerry phones will be visible for everyone to see by this time next year.
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