MWC: BlackBerry Banks On Secure Messaging And 'Classic' Q20 Handset For Rebound


BlackBerry's new CEO John Chen unleashed a mobile offensive at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, that included new handsets, services and big customer wins. Chen said the faded QWERTY-phone giant is now poised to end financial losses and break even within a year, after suffering a recent devastating $4.4 billion quarterly loss.

Chen said BlackBerry's "strategy to stabilize the company and restore customer confidence" is twofold, including new handsets and services targeting enterprise customers, and forging partnerships. One of those services, revealed Tuesday, is a mobile device management platform called Enterprise Services 12 (BES12), which claims to boost flexibility supporting the BlackBerry OS along with the Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices.   

One of several BES12 services will include a secure messaging service called eBBB that targets security-minded industries such as the financial market, allowing employees to message with colleagues using an enhanced level of security with its BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service.  

Related: BlackBerry Reports Huge Q3 Loss, But Partners See Glimmer Of Hope

"BlackBerry is moving in the right direction," said David Felton, president of Canaan Technology, a BlackBerry partner in Norwalk, Conn. "Selling companies on investing in BlackBerry is still an uphill battle. But as security grows as a concern in the mobile space, BlackBerry has an opportunity to make the case to customers about secure BBM messaging. Chen needs to change the discussion from a smartphone's screen size, camera and apps to, can you rely on your phone for mission-critical business apps such as email, messaging and voice."

Chen has publicly expressed renewed optimism over its messaging business in the wake of Facebook's purchase of WhatsApp for $19 billion. BlackBerry, at Mobile World Congress, said his mission is to push BBM into as many OS platforms as he can, including connected devices -- for example, cars. Chen told reporters at MWC that BlackBerry counted 85 million active users of its BBM service, comparing it to WhatsApp's 450 million.

BlackBerry said customers that use an earlier BES10 version of its mobile toolkit include Daimler AG and Airbus Group, which make up 80,000 companies "secured by BlackBerry," the company stated in a press release. Chen's services push includes focusing on the enterprise, for which client numbers have reached 30,000 in December, up from 25,000 this summer.

Chen, whose 90-day anniversary at the BlackBerry helm was Feb. 14, has been under intense pressure to revive BlackBerry and seek alternative revenue streams as BlackBerry handset sales have been devastated by Android and iPhone devices.

On the hardware front, BlackBerry unveiled a new handset, the BlackBerry Q20, which the company calls a "classic" because of its hardware-based QWERTY keyboard and trackpad. The Q20 will run on the BB10 operating system, has a 3.5-inch touch screen, and includes a row of Menu, Back, Send and End buttons above the touch screen. The Q20 goes on sale for the second half of 2014. BlackBerry said there were no images of a prototype of the phone available.  

BlackBerry unveiled a second smartphone, the BlackBerry Z3 -- code-named Jakarta -- sporting a 5-inch display, running BlackBerry 10.2 mobile OS. This phone, BlackBerry said, targets the budget-conscious Indonesian market and will cost under $200.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company reported it sold roughly 4.3 million handsets in the third quarter. The company has been plagued by withering sales of its handsets, reporting earlier this year that it has been saddled with $1 billion in unsold Z10 smartphones, along with excess inventory of keyboard-equipped Q series phones. Its latest premium phone, the all-touch-screen Z30 model, is only available at Verizon Wireless and online.

PUBLISHED FEB. 25, 2014