It's time to pay attention to BlackBerry — again.
Talk about déjà vu: I just finished handling a pre-production version of the "Mercury" smartphone by BlackBerry. This thing is a definite blast from the past, though it doesn't feel antiquated. Instead, it feels like the next generation of BlackBerry — essentially what we had hoped the Priv would be all along.
One thing is for certain: TCL is committed to reviving the BlackBerry brand in North America. In addition to giving us a peek at what's on the horizon, the company's president offered a road map of how it plans to proceed in reviving the brand over the next few years. I left the meeting feeling particularly optimistic about BlackBerry's future — the first time in five years. Here's why you might want to start paying attention again.
The next phone is truly a BlackBerry
Although the Priv was an impressive attempt on BlackBerry's part to establish itself as an Android brand, it didn't feel like a BlackBerry precisely because it was trying to be something else entirely.
The Mercury feels like fan service to BlackBerry's history.
Conversely, the Mercury feels like fan service to BlackBerry's design language. Rather than bundle BlackBerry apps and services onto an Alcatel device — as was the case with the DTEK50 and DTEK60 — the Mercury is simply a BlackBerry in modern clothing.
Unfortunately, I didn't get much time with the software installed on the Mercury because it wasn't finalized. But BlackBerry is taking its Hub in a positive direction. And if it adds in a few software and app exclusives to pair with this modern take on its own design, it may just convince the old fans to come back.
Better carrier partnerships
Steve Cistulli, the president of TCL — which now operates BlackBerry's smartphone hardware business in addition to building devices under the Alcatel name — walked us through his plans for the brand over the next few years. He believes that what TCL needs to do first and foremost is re-stabilize BlackBerry's business. And to do so, it needs to re-establish its relationships with the North American carriers. "I think what [we did with] Alcatel is a testimony that we have the ability to put BlackBerry handsets in that upward direction," he said. "We need to make sure the carriers understand what the [BlackBerry plan] looks like in the future years."
Cistulli wouldn't say which of the carriers the company is courting, but he did mention that this year would be primarily focused on "creating a portfolio for 2019."
It's still a major enterprise player
There is an enterprise waiting to be rejuvenated.
BlackBerry's biggest selling point during its hey-day (and to be fair, this enterprise management business is still strong) was its ability to play particularly well with company policies. TCL plans to leverage that past by building on it for the future. "We intend to use all that we've had with Alcatel to make BlackBerry a true competitor to Apple and Samsung," said Cistulli. "If we can make an end solution in the industry that is best in class in all regards … and then take what we do so well and put that on top of it — which is the efficient creation, manufacturing, distribution, and after-market care of a device — then you have a true win-win situation. "
Plus, added Cistulli, since the enterprise refresh cycle is so much longer than the consumer cycle, there is already an "enterprise waiting to be rejuvenated."
With the Mercury, the BlackBerry brand definitely has a phone it can ride into 2017 with that could spark that rejuvenation.
More: Hands-on with the BlackBerry 'Mercury'