John Chen explains BlackBerry Classic decision in open letter

John Chen BlackBerry Classic

Having confirmed the device’s launch in December, BlackBerry CEO John Chen has published an open letter explaining the motivations behind the release of the BlackBerry Classic Q20.

Chen describes the Classic as as a Bold 9900 with “a little more power” and that assertion is more on the nose than you’d normally expect. If leaked specs are to be believed, the Classic Q20 features a two year old processor to go with its three year old design, as the Classic resurrects the navigation keys and trackpad that were dropped with the company’s push to BlackBerry 10.

The letter attempts to explain such a significant strategic about-face, especially in the wake of innovative new devices like the BlackBerry Passport and confirmation that BlackBerry plans to produce more “unconventional” devices. Chen admits in his letter that current BlackBerry users are hanging onto legacy BlackBerry 7 devices rather than upgrading. This, he feels, necessitates the release of a device that doesn’t “break the mold.”

I have written extensively about the merits behind such a decision, both from a UX standpoint, as well as a financial one. Simply put, why would customers now finally decide to purchase a device they didn’t buy as the Bold 9900 or the Q10?

But Chen has often talked about his first months at the helm of BlackBerry travelling the globe to talk to customers to understand their needs. “When we lose sight of what you and you need, we lose you,” Chen says, and as CEO he should know what his customers need better than anyone.

Where his open letter fails to hold water, however, is in Chen’s attempt to wrap a tactical retreat in a narrative of innovation. “Innovation is not about blowing up what works to make something new – it’s about taking what works and making it better,” he says.

But that’s not innovation, it’s iteration, and a decade of modest iteration on a ‘classic’ design is partially responsible for BlackBerry’s current marketshare. Is building an “aptly named” BlackBerry smartphone enough in 2014? We’ll find out this December.

[source]Inside BlackBerry[/source]

Disclosure: I worked for BlackBerry from 2009-2011. The Bold 9900 was the last smartphone launched by the company during my tenure.

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