updated 05:29 pm EST, Sun January 12, 2014
BlackBerry's Chen says company will stick with keyboards
John Chen, CEO of struggling Canadian smartphone manufacturer BlackBerry, has reaffirmed the company's commitment to devices sporting hardware devices. Speaking with Bloomberg last week, Chen said that the company's devices will "predominantly" have physical keyboards going forward, signaling that the company will stick with the productivity-oriented design feature for which it is best known. Chen's comments do leave open the possibility that BlackBerry will continue to release devices that are all-touchscreen affairs, as it did last year with the BlackBerry Z10.
"I personally love the keyboards," Chen said in an interview yesterday with Bloomberg Television's Jon Erlichman at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Chen also confirmed BlackBerry's partnership with smartphone manufacturing giant Foxconn, saying that the firm "can be a great partner, not only to eliminate my inventory risk, but also their ability to penetrate various different markets." The first BlackBerry phones built by Foxconn will likely be all-touchscreen devices, but Chen reiterated that the company will have a greater focus on hardware keyboards in the future.
Sticking with hardware keyboards will endear BlackBerry to its existing user base, which numbers in the tens of millions but has been shrinking quarter by quarter. Those users rely on BlackBerry devices' keyboards in order to pound out text more accurately than they would on touchscreen devices. The rest of the smartphone market, though, has largely abandoned hardware typing implements, opting instead for the increase gaming and app capabilities enabled by larger screens.
Chen took the helm of BlackBerry in November of last year, after the company ousted then-CEO Thorsten Heins. Heins had overseen the failed launch of the company's BlackBerry OS 10 platform, as well as two abysmally-selling handsets, the touchscreen Z10 and the hardware keyboard sporting Q10. Under Heins' watch, the company continually hemorrhaged money, and the board eventually pushed him out and brought in Chen. Chen says he's there to stay, and he has been bringing in his own management team with an eye toward reversing the company's poor fortunes, which last quarter saw BlackBerry losing $4.4 billion.