TCL wants to overcome smartphone fatigue with the BlackBerry KEYone

Jason Gerdon TCL BlackBerry KEYone

The TCL-made BlackBerry KEYone is coming to Canada this month. It will officially be available to pre-order on May 18th. With general availability coming, via Bell, Bell MTS, Rogers, SaskTel, and Telus, on May 31st for $199 on a two-year contract.

This much-hyped device once again brings back the physical QWERTY keyboard and adds in a fingerprint sensor to the spacebar. With its 4.5-inch display, curved design and 12-megapixel camera, TCL is hoping to win back dormant BlackBerry fans with this Android 7.1 powered ‘BlackBerry Secure’ smartphone.

We caught up with TCL’s Jason Gerdon, the company’s senior manager of communications for North America, and discussed the upcoming launch of the KEYone and its efforts to overcome ‘smartphone fatigue’ among consumers.

BlackBerry KEYone keyboard

Question: Where do you think BlackBerry fits into the smartphone market these days?

Jason Gerdon: I think with BlackBerry, where we are getting now is a place in the smartphone market where that market has matured so much over recent years that it’s no longer a one size fits all solution. The way we innovate now in smartphones has changed and consumers need to overcome ‘smartphone fatigue’ with design.

We have to start thinking about smartphones the same way we think about the automotive industry. There is something for everybody because at a core level even the most basic smartphone is going to make smartphone calls pretty well. It’s going to get SMS and MMS pretty well. It’s going to surf the web. It’s going to be able to do those basic smartphone functions pretty well. That’s across the board as you can take a $50 phone and put it against a $1,000 phone and those experiences aren’t going to be drastically different.

What is comes down to, I think, is what’s the value proposition for the end consumer so in the same way that we buy cars we do with smartphones, such as what we like, what features we want and ultimately budget. We have to start thinking of things in a way of differentiation, similarly to how TCL does with these brand pillars with the Alcatel portfolio and the KEYone with BlackBerry Mobile.

It’s differentiating us the same way that Volkswagen differentiated with Volkswagen, Audi and Porche. That is a general way of how the market is evolving and needs to start looking at consumer needs.

Q: Why should someone buy the KEYone?

Gerdon: With KEYone, the way we have been able to step back and reimagine a BlackBerry smartphone for the modern smartphone user.

What you’re getting with the KEYone is all those great features and functionalities that you loved about your BlackBerry smartphone in the past — the heritage of BlackBerry with its durability, great battery life, security — is now tools to make the device better with a smarter keyboard, inclusion of the fingerprint sensor, and a deep look at the camera sensor.

Q: What are the sales expectations?

Gerdon: That’s a good question. We are definitely excited and have seen the response from the market. We have seen early sales in the UK and seeing high demand there. We’ve seen email signups here in North America and also a high level of carrier support we are seeing behind this device with Rogers, Bell, Telus Business and SaskTel here in Canada, is a good measurement for this device.

Our expectations in term of sales match that excitement but I will also temper that by saying we know this is a long term view for us. We are taking a patient approach, similar to how we built the Alcatel brand. We are not trying to rush things by any means and we’ve been open that this is a portfolio view for us and really deliver on consumer needs and expectations.

BlackBerry KEYonekeyboard

Q: Regarding the portfolio, if this is one of many to come, what is next?

Gerdon: I would say if you look at the TCL manufactured BlackBerry devices available today that is probably a good guidance on what that might look like down the road.

You have the DTEK50 and DTEK60 and now the KEYone. Even within our BlackBerry Mobile portfolio, we are taking the approach that it is not a one size fits all solution. We want to differentiate between core needs, functions and budgets.

Q: Why the name KEYone?

Gerdon: It was a little bit playful on our part.

It is meant to be obvious that it was meant for a physical keyboard device and if you infer from one where do you go from there? It ties back to that portfolio approach. It’s a long-term view.

Q: Will the BlackBerry KEYOne be available in other colours?

Gerdon: This is the flavour we have today and what will be available on May 31st.

Q: What will be available after May 31st?

Gerdon: It’s hard to say. This is the primary colour offering. If there is anything down the line it is yet to be determined.

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