When OnwardMobility — the licensee of the BlackBerry brand after TCL's uneventful time with the brand — missed its 2021 goal for a 5G BlackBerry reboot, many assumed it was game over for the deposed king of smartphones.
Not so, said OnwardMobility, claiming “we are not dead” just 34 days ago, and promising more regular updates to come with the first arriving later that month.
That new deadline passed without any updates, and a couple of new reports claim that the radio silence is because the project to review BlackBerry phones now really is dead.
“Dead as of yesterday,” wrote Kevin Michaluk, the well-connected founder of CrackBerry on the site’s forums (opens in new tab), citing “multiple sources” and adding that while he never signed an NDA, he had to remain a little vague to protect them.
That didn’t stop Michaluk being quite blunt, however. “We'll see if they actually post a formal update to their blog or not, but my guess would be that John Chen/BlackBerry prefers they just go quietly away (he's clearly done with phones) and at this point it's probably best for all of us to forgot about this train wreck,” Michaluk continued. “Well, train wreck is too complimentary as it would imply they built a train that they then wrecked. They never got that far.”
AndroidPolice (opens in new tab) backed this report up, adding that its own sources have confirmed that OnwardMobility’s rights to use the license have been cancelled. That’s not to say that OnwardMobility couldn’t make a keyboard based phone without the BlackBerry branding (January’s blog post notably didn’t mention the word “BlackBerry” once). But that would make an uphill struggle even more steep than before.
End of the road (again)?
While it’s possible that another company will try to persuade BlackBerry to give it another shot at the license, the signs don’t look good. Not only has BlackBerry been burned here, but as Michaluk wrote, John Chen is “clearly done with phones” and the company even went as far as to sell a bunch of legacy patents for $600 million at the start of the month (opens in new tab).
Even if that’s not the case and BlackBerry is still keen to find a licensee, it’s not clear if anyone would be up for the challenge. TCL Communications tried between 2017 and 2018 with a number of so-so handsets such as the Key2 LE, but the fact it allowed the last two years of the agreement to pass without any new additions speaks volumes. Reading between the lines, that suggests a commercial flop.
Unfortunately for BlackBerry diehards, this really could be the end of the road this time and it looks like physical keyboards are out of fashion now. Samsung used to make BlackBerry-style keyboard cases (opens in new tab) for its Galaxy S flagships, but gave up after the Galaxy S8 ,which suggests that the demand simply wasn’t there.
There are niche Android handset makers trying to offer a modern BlackBerry experience — the $299 Titan Pocket (opens in new tab) is probably the closest you can get right now — but the hopes of a mainstream physical keyboard revival probably died with OnwardMobility’s 5G BlackBerry.