A new BlackBerry handset was supposed to launch in 2021, with the brand seemingly back from the dead… yet again. However, no such handset emerged, leaving fans still wondering when a new BlackBerry is coming to market. After a long silence, its creators have finally spoken up.
Re-treading the rise and fall of BlackBerry is a common conversation in consumer tech, especially since the brand has had a second rise and fall in the last three years.
Once the business-tinged king of the phone world in the mid-2000s, the BlackBerry’s physical keyboard and straight-faced software didn’t survive the onslaught of the iPhone and the rise of Android. BlackBerry released one Android phone – 2015’s Priv – and then stopped making phones.
TCL then bought rights to release BlackBerry-branded phones, most notably giving us 2017’s KeyOne and then 2018’s Key2 – an even better sequel. A couple of other handsets came of the partnership, but as of 31 August 2020, TCL stopped supporting these phones with software updates and the partnership ended.
So it was with some surprise that, in the same breath as TCL’s abandonment of its license, US company OnwardMobility picked it up instead and has since announced that it will work to release a 5G-capable BlackBerry device with a physical keyboard soon.
When is the 2022 BlackBerry’s release date?
A new BlackBerry Android phone was originally slated to arrive in “the first half of 2021”, according to OnwardMobility’s initial 2020 press release on the subject, however, practically a year on from that initial window, a new ‘Berry is yet to materialise.
In late July 2021, the company announced its “Pre-Commitment Program,” offering fans and businesses a means of providing input on the development process of the first 5G BlackBerry, as well as the opportunity to gain early pre-order access, once the phone is ready for its debut.
While the program’s sign-up page didn’t reveal any additional information about when the phone would actually be ready for release, it did provide some insight into OnwardMobility’s progress, with the development of their device already underway at the time, but a final engineering design or specs and features not yet locked in.
In light of legacy BlackBerry devices officially losing software support on 4 January 2022, attentions quickly turned back to OnwardMobility and the seeming radio silence the startup had slipped into after mid-2021, leaving fans completely in the dark about the progress of its debut BlackBerry and when to expect it.
Checking in on 5 January, the company’s website had started to stagnate; still only making mention of a 2021 release, with no new posts or activity in months, covering both the site and its social channels; making a “when” increasingly look like an “if” in the eyes of hopeful BlackBerry fans.
Following mounting attention from media and BlackBerry enthusiasts alike, however, a new blog post appeared on OnwardMobility’s blog just a day later (6 January), entitled “Contrary to popular belief, we are not dead.”
In the post, OnwardMobility acknowledged its absent public-facing communication and vowed to deliver “more regular updates starting this month that will clarify and answer many of your questions,” concerning the development its new BlackBerry.
With regards to the silence up until this point, the post’s opening paragraph stated, “2021 was truly a challenging year to launch a new phone, much less one with the high expectations we set and the fact that we want to get it right,” citing unspecified delays that prevented the company from shipping its debut smartphone in 2021, as had originally been promised.
When this new BlackBerry does arrive, however, it’s expected to release in North America, Europe and Asia, although we don’t yet know which specific markets within those regions are included.
How much will the 2022 BlackBerry cost?
We have no indication of price yet, but our guess is that it will be fairly high, around perhaps the £800/US$800 mark.
Unless OnwardMobility can find some big business buyers out the gate, we’re not expecting their phone to sell in huge quantities. TCL’s BlackBerry phones were generally more expensive than the specs warranted – compared to competing devices – and we’re not expecting that trait to change this time around.
A BlackBerry in 2021/2022 is a niche device, to say the least, and while the premium price will attempt to reflect the exclusivity of a secure phone with a keyboard, the reality is that it will probably be expensive because of this same niche appeal.
What specs will the 2022 BlackBerry offer?
According to OnwardMobility, their new BlackBerry will offer 5G networking capabilities and a physical keyboard. These really are the only two specs that we officially have so far, aside from the fact that the phone will run on Android.
OnwardMobility has licensed the BlackBerry name and is also working with FIH Mobile Limited – a subsidiary of Foxconn – to manufacture the phone.
The only part of the original announcement that hinted at the specs of the phone stated that “there is an absolute need for a secure, feature-rich 5G-ready phone that enhances productivity.”
That’s still pretty vague but suggests that BlackBerry – the company (after ceasing producing its own phones, BlackBerry focused on becoming a viable cyber security brand) – could be involved at the software level, as it was with TCL’s licensed phones.
On the other hand, BlackBerry has been selling off its catalogue of patents over the past couple of years, with 90 sold to Huawei as of mid-2021, though admittedly that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the purported total haul of 38,000 patents it’s in possession of. It’s not clear if selling off its smartphone software patents will affect the company’s ability or intent to provide its own original software going forward.
“Feature-rich” perhaps means that the new BlackBerry will be an all-singing, all-dancing high-end device, unlike the KeyOne or Key2. 5G phones don’t need to tout the latest, most powerful Snapdragon chipsets but it might help the new BlackBerry garner more staying power with buyers. The KeyOne, in particular, runs pretty slow today and was not well future-proofed.
New BlackBerry 2022 wish list
With so little concrete information to go on, here are a few things we hope OnwardMobility’s new 5G BlackBerry is bringing to the table, in order to do the brand justice.
A high refresh rate display
The KeyOne and Key2 used the same exact screen and it was not a good one. Colours were a little muted and brightness wasn’t great. A premium BlackBerry needs to pack a much better display, and we’d hope for one with a high refresh rate, this deep into 2021. If OnwardMobility wants to attract business professionals, it should treat them to a premium screen.
A superlative keyboard
It sort of goes without saying that the physical keyboard needs to be good but the last great keyboard on a BlackBerry was 2014’s BlackBerry Classic. The clicky tactile keys haven’t been recreated since. The Key2 got closest, but the keys were too small and too square.
Sliding form factor
The problem with putting larger keys in is the expectation of modern smartphone form factors. The KeyOne and Key2 had poky screens in order to fit a physical keyboard below them and still have a phone of manageable size. We think the new BlackBerry should recreate the form factor of the BlackBerry Priv, with a regular touchscreen smartphone display and a sliding form factor that hides a physical keyboard.
Then again, if the phone aped the compact design of the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and made Android work properly, we’d be in nostalgia heaven.
The cameras on the TCL BlackBerrys were all weak. We hope the 5G BlackBerry has cameras that can hold their own against modern smartphones. If companies keep bringing the brand back, they need to stop compromising on the quality of the cameras, one of the main things people value on their phones nowadays – even businesspeople.
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