BlackBerry ‘Classic’ devices to restore physical buttons, touchpad

BlackBerry confirmed it will return to its roots and attempt to reestablish its leadership in enterprise mobility with a series of “Classic” devices that bring physical buttons and a touchpad back to the forefront.

Speaking at an event in Toronto on Thursday morning, Jim Mackey, BlackBerry’s executive vice-president of operations, said BlackBerry Classic is a direct response to user feedback and will appeal to the “muscle memory” of users that handled its first hardware with function keys and other features that had been removed from more recent models.

“Let’s be honest, it’s the phone that millions of users know and love,” he said.

Last month CEO John Chen said the Classic will likely be released in November.

The move to BlackBerry Classic is a sharp departure from the strategy of former CEO Thorsten Heins, who launched the Z10 device with an emphasis on a touchscreen concept similar to Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S5.

Beyond the devices, BlackBerry president of global enterprise services John Sims said the company is strongly focused on the concerns of its corporate customers, including cloud computing, device management and the Internet of Things (IoT). Sims pointed to BlackBerry’s assets beyond hardware such as its carrier relationships, its security tools and, most significantly, its upcoming platform update, BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES) 12.

Rather than force IT departments to have various mobile OSes and devices “glued together” to work properly, Sims called BES 12 a unifying force that would put cross-platform capabilities front and centre.

“The way we presented that  to the industry is we pumped up BES 10, and we kind of muffled behind our hand and under our breath said, ‘We also support iOS and Android.’ That tis not what you will hear from BlackBerry these days,” he said.

Sims pointed out that research firm Gartner has suggested BlackBerry is best poised to offer the product services that support the corporately owned, personally enabled (COPE) model of offering greater device choice in corporations. “And our friends at Gartner are not always our friends, as you know” he said, referencing a report from Gartner last year that urged CIOs to consider abandoning BlackBerry amid its restructuring and future uncertainty.

BlackBerry will also be increasing its attention on enabling the development of enterprise apps, which Sims characterized as a different challenge than those working in the consumer app and mobile gaming space, where BlackBerry has often come up short compared to its rivals.

“It’s not about millions of apps. It’s about 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 apps. And its apps that really make a difference in our employees’ lives,” he said.

Industry analyst Maribel Lopez agreed with Sims, suggesting that development models in the enterprise need to better match the use cases of their employees and customers. Lopez, who also spoke at the BlackBerry Experience event, pointed to health-care, logistics and retail as vertical markets that are particularly poised to take advantage of enterprise apps.

“It’s less about mobile-enabling apps but getting into mobile-enabling workflows,” she said, mentioning customer relationship management (CRM), sales force automation (SFA) and paper replacement as some of the likely app options. “This is (requiring) a big adaptation within enterprises.”

Sims told reporters following his keynote that BlackBerry will also offer BBM Protected early this summer, an enterprise version of its popular messaging service that would bring increased security for corporate users with options to log BBM chats off of BES. This would be highly useful in regulated industries to meet compliance requirements, he said.

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