PLANT

BlackBerry timetravels with its CrackBerry Classic

Familiar features include menu buttons and a small track pad below the screen.


WATERLOO, Ont. — BlackBerry is reaching back to its “CrackBerry” heyday in hopes of winning back customers who once were among the smartphone company’s most loyal users. The curtain lifted on the BlackBerry Classic at an event in New York City for the media, analysts and some customers on Dec. 17.

Chief executive John Chen will deliver a keynote speech, followed by presentations from some corporate partners.

The Classic is designed to look and work like an updated version of the Bold 9900, which became the company’s best-selling device when it was released in 2011.

Since Chen joined the company a year ago, he has focused on improving the finances of BlackBerry and rescuing its reputation with business customers.

Among other things, he has been a staunch supporter of resurrecting a phone for clients who said they wanted devices that weren’t so dramatically different from past BlackBerrys.

BlackBerry has tried to move beyond those older models with the launch of a new operating system and the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10 devices.

However, the company has seen its market share decline at a rapid pace as longtime customers switched to Apple’s iPhone, Samsung’s Galaxy and other devices.

Returning to the Classic model are some familiar features of older BlackBerrys including a “belt” of physical keys placed below the screen that included menu buttons and a small track pad.

What’s different from the older phones is a larger screen and improved battery life.

Convincing smartphone users that the Classic is anything but a has-been concept will be the biggest challenge, said Max Wolff, chief economist at Manhattan Venture Partners.

“There’s no real razzle-dazzle there to say the least,” Wolff said in an interview.

“The problem is they’re fighting a universal market perception that their devices are kind of washed out.”

BlackBerry has raised a few eyebrows for naming its new device the Classic, invoking memories of Coca-Cola’s Classic rebranding following the failed launch of “New Coke” in 1985.

“Calling this Classic definitely is not a mark on our previous products, but it is meant more to strike up imagery with existing BlackBerry users – it’s a bit of throwback for them,” said Michael Clewley, director of handheld software product management in a recent interview.

“With John (Chen) coming in and taking reins of BlackBerry … I think he personally really liked the name Classic because it was something that brings an image in people’s mind when they say it.”

Chen said he sees potential for the Classic to catch on with smartphone users who haven’t warmed to the growing number of touchscreen phones.

“We could capture new markets and new users with the Classic,” Chen said at a roundtable with reporters earlier this fall.

Export Development Canada (EDC) has announced US$850 million in financial assistance being given to European telecom giant Vodafone, with the majority of the money being allocated to BlackBerry.

Under the five-year agreement, Vodafone will spend $750 million on BlackBerry’s handsets, software and support services.

© 2014 The Canadian Press

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