BlackBerry, once a staple and status symbol of board rooms across the world, is now a relic of the past. RIM tried and failed to match the blooming iPhone and Android platforms in the early 2010s, but eventually had to license the BlackBerry brand to TCL. Now TCL’s time with it is over, and it’s coming back again. Sort of.
See, TCL’s run with licensing the BlackBerry name started in 2016, and ends on August 31st. TCL made some pretty decent BlackBerry phones with its signature candybar QWERTY keyboard: the Android-powered KeyOne, Key2, and Key2 LE (along with the all-touchscreen Motion). But a combination of high prices and niche appeal means that the brand fizzled out yet again.
The new licensee of the BlackBerry name is OnwardMobility, which appears to be a fresh venture created specifically to make BlackBerry-branded hardware. The company is partnering with FIH Mobile, a subsidiary of Taiwanese mega-manufacturer Foxconn. They’re planning to have a new BlackBerry phone ready to sell by 2021, complete with that distinctive QWERTY keyboard and a newfangled 5G radio.
Other details on this prospective regurgitated BlackBerry are scarce—we can assume it would run Android, and probably on some high-end hardware, if they’re targeting businesses. The press release also stresses data security and privacy, which has been a focus of the original BlackBerry company since it pivoted to corporate communications software. OnwardMobility says it’s planning on releasing the phone in North America, which isn’t a given.
Notably, Foxconn made the original BlackBerry for RIM (and the iPhone for Apple, among other partnerships with Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Xiaomi…it’s a long list). Hopefully that means the rock-solid hardware will return. Whether anyone actually wants it this time, and whether it will be priced right to actually find a place in the market, is anybody’s guess.