On Wednesday, BlackBerry Ltd. launches its latest smartphone, the Classic, at events in New York City, Frankfurt and Singapore. The Classic is the company's second smartphone launched this fall by CEO John Chen aimed at the "enterprise," or business and government market, after the Passport debuted in September. Here are five things to note about Wednesday's launch:
1) Defence, not offence
The Classic is aimed at diehard BlackBerry users who like a good keyboard and have eschewed the company's newer, touch-centric devices and those made by Apple and Android-based manufacturers in favour of holding on to their older Bolds. The Classic is not expected to grow BlackBerry's dwindling market share, but is aimed at defending what it has by convincing these die-hards to upgrade to its latest offering: Morgan Stanley analyst James Faucette forecasts BlackBerry will sell about 8 million smartphones in its next fiscal year, about the same as this year.
2) A Bold step backward…
The Classic restores some of the key features of older devices that disappeared with the release of its updated BlackBerry 10 operating system in 2013. These include the "belt" of four physical keys – two for phone calls, one for the menu and one to go one step back – anchored by a mouse-like trackpad. Also returning are several shortcut tasks activated by striking certain keys (for example, C for composing a message). BlackBerry has even brought back its rudimentary video game Brick Breaker, a kind of Pong for bored executives stuck in airport lounges with time to kill.
3) …But it's not all retro
The Classic uses the BlackBerry 10 operating system, which still requires a bit of getting used to for older users, even after two updates since its launch. The Internet browser runs a lot faster than on the Bold and there are far more apps than before, after BlackBerry struck a deal with Amazon to feature its Android app store on the platform.
4) Better, not best
For BlackBerry users who are still using older Bolds or Curves, the Classic will seem like an improvement: the screen is larger (3.5 inches across diagonally vs. 2.8 inches for the Bold), the camera is sharper and takes panorama and "burst" shots, the machine is faster and sturdier with a steel rib around the perimeter. But the camera, at 8 megapixels, lags the industry standard (13 megapixels), the processor is not as fast as the one on the Nexus 6 phablet and the screen is smaller than those found on best-selling Apple and Samsung devices. While the apps experience is better, the amount of available programs trails well behind the competition – and the trackpad will have limited usefulness on many of apps that were written for touchscreen devices.
5) The Classic won't save or sink the company.
The Classic is one of several pieces in Mr. Chen's plan to turn around the company by focusing on its core business and government users. That said, if Classic doesn't sell well, it could hasten BlackBerry's exit from the device business. On the other hand, if huge numbers of Bold users upgrade to the Classic, it could hasten the already steady decline of the company's lucrative monthly fees generated by its older devices. The more important question is whether the company can generate substantial new revenues from selling services and software to its enterprise customers.