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BlackBerry KEYone release “too little, too late” in battle against top rivals

Alex Yau
May 8, 2017

Leading analysts pour scorn on TCL’s hopes of challenging heavyweights with return of iconic design

TCL’s release of the BlackBerry KEYone smartphone is “too little, too late” in its attempts to take on Samsung,Apple and Huawei.

That is the damning verdict from several leading analysts, who spoke to Mobile News following its UK launch on April 27, and comes just months after the company unveiled the new handset at Mobile World Congress in February.

Pricing starts from £499 and the smartphone is available at Selfridges, Carphone Warehouse and Vodafone. However, EE, Three and O2 confirmed they would not be stocking the product.

BlackBerry recently announced that revenues for its financial year ending February 28 plummeted year-on-year from £1.6 billion to £1 billion, with hardware making up just over a quarter of that total. Shipment figures haven’t been released, but UK market share is believed to have slipped below 0.5 per cent.

GfK technology director Imran Choudhary claimed the lack of  UK operator support would create a major barrier in TCL’s long-term ambitions.

Operator partnerships

“Being stocked in Selfridges creates the desirability factor which will certainly create a buzz at the start, but that won’t be enough.

“BlackBerry’s goal of taking on the likes of Apple and Samsung looks like an unlikely one as operator partnerships are key in the UK. The majority of mobile phone sales come from the networks and BlackBerry will really struggle if they don’t have that piece with them.”

The device comes with a smart QWERTY keyboard, which the company claims is its major USP. Users are able to assign shortcuts to each key and use it as a trackpad to navigate through menus.

However, Canalys research analyst Ben Stanton claimed the feature would not be enough to attract new customers.

“Some of the features are impressive, but I feel BlackBerry didn’t highlight [them] enough when they revealed it,” he said. “It feels like a step backwards because customers are so used to touchscreen keyboards nowadays.

“If BlackBerry showed off more of the keyboard, customers might be reacting a little differently. However, they just don’t see the benefits and it feels too little too late for them.”

Increased competition

CCS Insight chief of research Ben Wood added the task would be more difficult due to the presence of Huawei.

“It’s not just Apple and Samsung that BlackBerry has to worry about. It’s Huawei as well who have gone from being an outsider to third.

“The market is much different to what it used to be and it’s going to make the task for BlackBerry so much more difficult.”

The KEYone is the first major handset with the BlackBerry name launched by TCL, which also owns the Alcatel brand,since it purchased manufacturing rights in December last year. BlackBerry announced in the September before the deal that it would cease all internal development of smartphones.

Challenger brand

BlackBerry Mobile EMEA MD Francois Mahieu admitted at the KEYone’s UK launch that the manufacturer had now become a challenger brand and the latest smartphone would help it make up for past mistakes.

He admitted to disappointing sales of BlackBerry’s Priv and DTEK60 handsets and despite “letting customers down” with previous devices, he remained confident the KEYone would rectify those mistakes. “We’ll use our positioning as a challenger brand in the UK to disrupt the market with this new unique offering.

Gap in market

“There is a big place for BlackBerry in the UK market. We really intend to get back into the market and we’re aiming at customers who have left BlackBerry for Apple or Samsung. These customers left us for a reason. We understand that. Perhaps the screen was too small, the battery life wasn’t great or you couldn’t get access to the apps you wanted on previous BlackBerry devices.

“Sales of the Priv and the DTEK60 did not perform as well as everyone would have hoped. We let customers down in the past with previous products, but we’ve fixed all our previous mistakes with the new phone.”


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