By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated January 08, 2014.
What directions will BlackBerry, under new leadership, now take? This week, CEO John Chen made comments at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that clearly point the company toward a re-emphasis on its characteristic physical keyboard, a refocus on its base in the enterprise market, and a continuing emphasis on the security of its products.
On Monday, Chen spoke to Bloomberg Television at CES about his fondness for physical keyboards. He added that his company will "predominantly" feature physical rather than touchscreen keyboards, a turnaround from the touchscreen BlackBerry 10 models the company released in the last year.
The emphasis on physical keyboards ties in with BlackBerry's focusing once again on the enterprise market, which has shown a fondness for physical keys because of the speed with which messages can be typed. As an indication of its reclaiming its reputation in real keyboards, BlackBerry has filed suit against the maker of a snap-on keyboard for the iPhone, called the Typo Keyboard, which the Canadian phone maker claimed is derived from its products.
The new CEO also said that his company will launch two new smartphones this year, one a touchscreen model manufactured by China's Foxconn that will be priced under $200, and the other a high-end model with a physical QWERTY keyboard.
Additionally, Chen commented on the five-year commitment his company recently made with Foxconn to design and make some of its phones. He told Bloomberg that Foxconn "can be a really great partner," because it removed the risk of excess inventory and because Foxconn has an "ability to penetrate various different markets," such as developing or emerging markets.
In a separate discussion Tuesday with a group of reporters at CES, Chen said he planned for BlackBerry to show a profit by fiscal 2016. Over the next 18 months, he told the reporters, his company "will only focus on enterprise," including more of an emphasis on its mobile device management software, Big Data and device-to-device communications.
'DNA Is in the Enterprise'
But, at the same time, Chen also said BlackBerry was not abandoning the consumer market, as represented by the continued development and promotion of the popular BlackBerry Messenger Service (BBM). Although BBM is consumer-focused, the company has also been pitching BBM to businesses as a more secure communications tool than other such products.
As part of a new effort to reinforce its overall image as a vendor who is conscious of security issues relating to its business and governmental customers, Chen confirmed that BlackBerry would be opening a Security Innovation Center in Washington, D.C., for demonstrations and "dialog" between public and private sectors.
Ramon Llamas, an analyst with industry research firm IDC, told us that BlackBerry's "DNA is in the enterprise," so this re-emphasis is a return to its roots. He also noted that, "if you lined up all the smartphone keyboards, BlackBerry's physical keyboard stands out," and added that hard keys "are still in demand."
The company is simply giving "people what they want," he said.