BlackBerry is now a security company that also happens to still release smartphones. This fact was made abundantly clear during a recent briefing in Toronto that centered on the company’s second, all-touchscreen Android smartphone, the DTEK50.
The new handset, which features the company’s DTEK security app, is designed to help users alter and be more aware of Android app permissions. The device, which many predict could be one of its final smartphones if its handset business isn’t able to turn a profit soon, is aimed at enterprise customers, particularly those in the small and medium-small business market.
Alex Thurber, BlackBerry’s head of global sales, says with the DTEK50, the company is focused on offering enterprise users an affordable security-focused Android option, rather than selling customers what he calls “pure fear, uncertainty and dread.”
“We feel that customers today, certainly businesses and consumers, are beginning to understand just how important security is when it comes to their smartphone,” said Thurber.
Whether or not this enterprise-first tactic will be advantageous for the company is yet to be seen, but contracting the phone’s manufacturing process out to China-based TCL, a company that also manufactures the similar-looking Alcatel Idol 4, likely drove down the phone’s production cost considerably.
While BlackBerry’s first Android device, the Priv, received relatively positive reviews, its expensive $899 off-contract Canadian price tag prevented it from becoming the sales success the company was looking for. Though specific sales of the Priv are unknown, BlackBerry’s most recent quarterly results indicate that total BlackBerry sales amount to less than 500,000, with this number also including devices that utilize the company’s BlackBerry 10 (BB10) operating system.
While BlackBerry refrained from mentioning BB10 during this briefing for the most part, the company does claim it’s still committed to the operating system, despite releasing two Android devices.
BlackBerry says that the DTEK50 has the same security features as the Priv, only at a much cheaper, $429 price point. Though in the consumer space, there are more powerful phones such as the OnePlus 3 and Moto G4 Plus that are priced similarly and arguably offer a better user experience.
It’s the phone’s DTEK security software and monthly security update strategy, one that no other Android manufacturer has adopted, that are its main draw. BlackBerry is hoping these features translate into sales for the company in the enterprise space, especially given there is some indication the company plans to offer businesses DTEK50’s as part of BlackBerry Enterprise Service 12 (BES 12) subscriptions, giving the company another avenue to sell the smartphone.
Given the fact that the mid-range consumer smartphone market is so crowded, especially in terms of mid-range Android devices, BlackBerry has a significant amount of competition in the space.
If the phone is to truly become the hit the struggling company needs, the enterprise market needs to buy into the security narrative BlackBerry is selling with the more affordable DTEK50. Whether or not this happens remains to be seen, but BlackBerry has certainly positioned itself to be a player in this niche market.
Photos by Patrick O’Rourke and Igor Bonifacic.