The end is nigh: TCL to stop making BlackBerry phones

Chinese device maker TCL will stop making BlackBerry-branded smartphones from August 31, 2020, the Canadian company has announced.

BlackBerry, formerly Research In Motion, was for long, before the arrival of the smartphone as we know it today, renown for its mobile devices which merged the security demands of enterprise users with the practicality that is mobility as we were getting to know it. You know, the idea of email and constant chatting on the go complete with a full-size QWERTY keyboard.

However, the entry of the first iPhone into the market in 2008 and, subsequently, the opening of the smartphone floodgates as lots of feature-packed devices powered by Google’s Android found their way to the hands of hundreds of millions of users worldwide, spelt doom for the once-dominant brand. This saw it drop from accounting for a fifth of the world’s smartphone market at its peak in 2010 to 0% market share by 2016.

2016 is not only a significant year because it is when BlackBerry finally hit rock bottom but is also when the Waterloo-based company lived up to the name of its home city; giving up its hardware-making obligations and licensing the same to Chinese device maker TCL.

The previous year, 2015, had seen BlackBerry ditch its own operating system for Android following an all-too-familiar pattern of pioneer mobile phone brands looking for a comeback: Nokia (now under HMD Global) and Palm (device made by a San Francisco startup going by the same name under licence from, well, TCL). The Priv, short for “privacy”, tried to appeal to both BlackBerry loyalists as well as new-age users by integrating a keyboard and a slide-up screen.

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Since then, it is TCL that has been responsible for the devices bearing the famous BlackBerry logo while BlackBerry themselves have been developing and maintaining the software that BlackBerry devices have been known for ever since.

However, much as that is the case, BlackBerry devices have had little to no impact in the fast-paced mobile world; often appearing more as relics preying on our nostalgia than devices to take selfies with on a night out with friends.

The first batch of BlackBerry devices from TCL, the DTEK50 and DTEK60 modelled on its own Alcatel Idol 4 series devices and stacked with security features meant to keep the traditional BlackBerry user, didn’t do much to turn the tide. Neither did those that came after them like the KEY and Motion series phones.

So, now, what to do?

Let it all go, it seems, is TCL’s play.

According to the statement from BlackBerry, however, TCL will continue supporting the devices in their fold through to August 31, 2022.

BlackBerry is not clear on what happens from here with regards to new product releases with the only hint in the statement, posted on Twitter, being that “The future is bright for both TCL Communications and BlackBerry Limited…”

BlackBerry’s other partner, its Indonesia-based joint venture BB Merah Putih, which was responsible for the Aurora, appears to have pivoted to providing support for devices under its fold, at least according to its website. Little is known about another (licensee) partner, Optiemus Infracom, which operated as BlackBerry Mobile India.

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In the past year, TCL has gone all out to strike on its own in the mobile phone world having made devices (smartphones, tablets and feature phones) for others and under other brands for years and capitalizing on its brand name which has become synonymous with budget television sets around the world.

At the Consumer Electronics Show last month, TCL showcased a prototype of a foldable device it has been working on. This is in addition to the smartphones it has been showcasing and releasing since they first took us behind the scenes at IFA GPC 2019 last April to show us what they had in store for the following 12 months.

For BlackBerry, TCL’s exit is the latest blow, after Indonesian company Emtek pulled out from developing and supporting its once-popular chat app BBM.

The question now becomes, for how long can BlackBerry hold on before it truly meets its Waterloo?

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