BlackBerry is back and I'm both optimistic and cautious

BlackBerry Key2
BlackBerry Key2 (Image credit: Android Central)

If you're a regular reader of Android Central or happen to catch one of my Twitter posts, you might know I'm a big BlackBerry fan. The "new" BlackBerry version two where Android was the operating system of choice even more so than the original. I get the modern convenience of Android and the physical keyboard I love all in one device.

That's why I was excited when we first got the news that BlackBerry, OnwardMobility, and FIH Mobile (the company that manufactured the BlackBerry Passport and Classic) got together to bring BlackBerry back from the dead again. For me, the BlackBerry Key2 from TCL and BlackBerry was the best Android phone and had everything a phone I could design for myself included. That changed when someone, somewhere decided to forget to update it past Android Oreo.

Later versions of Android have been largely focused on security and privacy and critical (for me, anyway) options like the one-time permission for location sharing were long overdue and a must-have feature. Once Android 10 came around, I had to retire the Key2 that I really liked.

My Key2 still runs perfectly. It's just stuck on an old version of the software.

Part of my mind is really hoping BlackBerry and OnWardMobility will remake the Key2 (a Key3?) or a revamped BlackBerry Priv that was actually great to type on and price it reasonably as well as keep the damn thing updated as TCL and BlackBerry did with their phones at first. Another part of my mind is almost certain that none of this will happen.

The folks at OnWardMobility certainly seem optimistic, as you would imagine. The news even brought CrackBerry Kevin Michaluk and the rest of the CrackBerry crew together to talk with OnWardMobility CEO Peter Franklin during a special edition podcast about the news and OnWardMobility's plans for the BlackBerry brand. Watching brought back some memories and got that hopeful side of my brain in high gear.

I have to put aside my hopes, though. An Android phone that carries a BlackBerry name and has BlackBerry's signature feature, the physical keyboard, doesn't have a lot of appeal for most people. Something more has to be there if OnWardMobility wants to sell enough phones to be successful. Franklin says timely updates are very much part of the plan and the story, but you can get those from a Pixel phone — another brand that isn't successful.

You need only look at Samsung to see what sells.

Any Android phone has to look at the giant that is Samsung for inspiration when designing a phone people will buy. The display matters, the camera matters, the build quality matters. Security and a physical keyboard don't matter very much except for a few people like myself.

OnWardMobility is doing one thing very right — asking the remaining BlackBerry diehards what they want to see in a new phone. There aren't hundreds of millions of BlackBerry fans like there was 10 years ago, but there may be enough to offer an incentive to make this business venture successful. And if OnWardMobility can find a way to get the attention and dollars of new BlackBerry customers, it could turn from successful to lucrative.

None of this is easy. Ask anyone who used or still uses the BlackBerry Key2 — it is a well-built phone that does everything promised. It also didn't sell enough to keep TCL and BlackBerry Mobile interested in continuing production or support. The feedback from its predecessor, the KeyOne, was considered and addressed but it wasn't enough.

I'm optimistic, but I'm very cautious.

We don't know where the breakdown happened, but we do know that nobody outside of smartphone enthusiasts even knew there was a "new" BlackBerry out there, and those that did know just didn't care enough to spend their money. These are the hurdles that OnWardMobility will face and there is no telling if they will be able to overcome them.

I'm already certain that I'll buy the newest BlackBerry once its available. I know a few of you will, too. But I don't know if enough people will buy one to make this thing work. I'm both optimistic and cautious.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.