Keyboard and function keys returning to BlackBerry phones

Written by New York Times | Updated: Feb 27 2014, 08:08am hrs
Last year, BlackBerrys vision of the future was an all-touch-screen phone. Now John S Chen, who became chief executive and executive chairman after that plans spectacular failure, is proposing a return to BlackBerrys past as its path to the future.

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, Chen said that in addition to a physical keyboard, the companys next flagship phone would include physical buttons for some functions and a track pad. When BlackBerry introduced a keyboard-touch screen hybrid phone as its second new product last year, many loyalists were dismayed by its lack of function keys.

In my first 90 days on the job, I consistently heard from our ardent BlackBerry

customers that the hard buttons and track pad are an

essential part of the BlackBerry Qwerty experience, Chen said in a statement. I want these customers to know that we heard them.

Chen did not show a prototype of the new phone, which will be called the Q20, nor did he announce a release date. But the company indicated that it would include a larger battery than current models and have Menu, Back, Send and End buttons.

Charles Golvin, an independent technology analyst based in Los Angeles, said the new phone clearly reflected Chens decision to focus BlackBerry on its traditional customer base of government and corporate users. Going back to a kind of device you can

operate one-handed is a way for BlackBerry to differentiate itself, Golvin said. Theyre going back to their remaining loyalists and the recently departed. I doubt there was an overwhelming tidal wave of bring us the old buttons back, but there may have been a trend that BlackBerry 10 was just a move too far away.

BlackBerry made several announcements this week that provided a refreshing change from the announcements of cutbacks, layoffs and asset sales that have been made so far in Chens tenure. The company introduced a new version of software that allows corporations to manage and control BlackBerrys and other brands of smartphones used by their employees, as well as a high-security version of the BlackBerry Messenger instant messaging service, also intended for corporate and government users. Chen has made it clear that much of BlackBerrys future rests on its software and services business.

At the other end of the phone price spectrum, the company also announced the Z3, a low-cost, touch screen phone that will be sold only in Indonesia, a market where BlackBerry continues to thrive. The new phone

announcements, however, are not a definitive sign that BlackBerry will remain in the phone business in the long term.

In an interview posted online this week by The Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper, Chen left open the possibility of an exit. I think devices are still one component of the solution, Chen says. The question is: Do we need to be in the device business That remains to be seen.