BlackBerry may be out of the smartphone manufacturing business but the company says it works closely with partners on designing hardware and polishing the software experience.
“I am really excited about this whole new go-to-market strategy for BlackBerry, working with local partners because when you think about it we really have the best of both worlds,” Alex Thurber, Senior Vice-President and General Manager of Mobility Solutions at BlackBerry, told indianexpress.com on the sidelines of the launch of the Evolve and Evolve X in India. “We bring our expertise and experience in security in cell phone design, along with Optiemus who knows the Indian market.”
While the Evolve and Evolve X have been branded as the new BlackBerry phones on the market, it’s made by Noida-based company Optiemus Infracom. In 2017, Optiemus acquired the local licensing rights from BlackBerry, which means Optiemus is free to design, manufacture and sell BlackBerry-branded smartphones in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The global licensing rights to sell BlackBerry-branded phones are still with China’s TCL though.
Thurber describes BlackBerry’s partnership with Optiemus Infracom as “a marriage”. He says both companies have worked closely on the Evolve and Evolve X from initial stages. “Optiemus came up with what they thought were the requirements for [this] competitive market. And then we worked with them on how to adjust those requirements to fit the BlackBerry brand. We then go back and forth on the software and hardware to make sure we are really sharing our expertise,” he explained.
As always, BlackBerry’s focus on security and privacy will the key to the user experience on a phone. Both the Evolve and Evolve X are running on Google’s Android mobile OS, but on top of that BlackBerry has applied a layer of security and productivity-related apps.
“Security, privacy, and productivity are really the three things we focus on. But at the end of the day, we believe that you own the data and you should make the decision on who else can see it. That is why we make things from the ground up — from the secure manufacturing up to adjustments in the operating system,” Alex said.
At the moment, the Evolve and Evolve X will be made exclusively in the sub-continent, where Optiemus is authorised to sell BlackBerry-branded smartphones. Alex says he would like to see the Evolve series to travel to other parts of the world, but this can only happen when Optiemus will come to an agreement with other licensees.
At one point of time, BlackBerry was one of the top mobile phone manufacturers, best known for producing smartphones with a physical keyboard. But the brand fell after Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007. The company lost more momentum once Google became a dominant force in the smartphone market. BlackBerry did try to make a comeback with the release of an Android-powered Priv, but all its efforts were in vain. In 2016, BlackBerry finally announced that it will no longer design its own smartphones and would rather outsource manufacturing to third parties.
According to Alex, the company’s strategy to no longer manufacture its own devices and instead outsource hardware making to development partners, was definitely “a great way forward” for the brand. “[This] way we can concentrate on the software, the security, and the productivity,” he said, adding that “it allows our partners to concentrate on the hardware and a go-to-market”. “I think it is a great combination,” Alex said.
BlackBerry Key2 was recently rolled out globally, including India. The flagship smartphone with a physical keyboard has been received well where it has been launched, claims Alex. In the future, BlackBerry plans to launch more smartphones with a physical QWERTY keyboard. Word on the street is that BlackBerry will soon bring a lite version of the Key2 with low-end hardware, although Alex declined to comment on the same.