The phones that were built under a manufacturing agreement are now part of the licensing agreement. What does this mean for their future?
The BlackBerry DTEK50 and DTEK60 were a new direction for BlackBerry. While we all know most of our BlackBerry phones were not actually manufactured in Waterloo, we knew that all other aspects of the phone was firmly in the grasp of BlackBerry. With the introduction of the DTEK50 and soon after the DTEK60, we saw BlackBerry taking a reference design from new manufacturing partner TCL and turning that design in to BlackBerry phones. The result was devices which physically looked and felt much more like a TCL phone than a BlackBerry. While this provided ammunition for BlackBerry naysayers, BlackBerry fans and users could quickly find the BlackBerry within the shell of the device once we began to use them.
This manufacturing deal between BlackBerry and TCL didn’t last for long. It was quickly replaced as BlackBerry shed the hardware aspect of their business as they pivoted to a software company. Instead of TCL being a manufacturer for hire, they became the biggest licensing partner of BlackBerry, now responsible for the design, marketing, and support of hardware for future BlackBerry phones, that will house BlackBerry’s secure version of Android.
While the average consumer will presumably see no difference, in that there was a BlackBerry phone before, and there are still BlackBerry phones today, we in the know had a very clearly defined lines. Or rather lines. But it’s still slightly confusing.
The BlackBerry Priv was the last phone wholly designed and under the control of BlackBerry.
The DTEK50 and DTEK60 were the last BlackBerry made phones. Except that these phones were designed on top of TCL reference designs and manufactured by TCL.
The BlackBerry KEYone was the first phone to come out of the TCL-BlackBerry licensing agreement. Except this phones initial design came from BlackBerry and not TCL, and apparently at least one other BlackBerry licensee is making their version of the phone.
Confused yet? If you’re just now trying to learn the situation, I bet you are. However, I’m sure anyone that has been following BlackBerry all along isn’t confused in the least. While everything appears a bit jumbled as I’ve written it here, everything was taken one step at a time, and it does make sense if you’ve been following along. As BlackBerry users, there’s been only one thing that’s mattered to us, and that is the question of “who supports my phone?” And that has been quite plain. All BB10, Priv, and DTEK’s were under the BlackBerry umbrella. Original KEYone falls to TCL/BlackBerry Mobile, and for the sake of our own sanity, let’s just leave the black edition of the KEYone out of this conversation for now.
For those of us that have been keeping track and know precisely what umbrella our devices fall under, well, there’s been some changes. Back in May, BlackBerry and TCL filed a transfer with the FCC. This transfer is for three FCC ID’s which cover the BlackBerry DTEK50 and DTEK60. The letter states that “BlackBerry is making this letter available to confirm a change in the certification database as maintained by the FCC, that TCL Communications Ltd. is authorized and will assume responsibility or the manufacture, distribute, sell and support of the above three listed devices and will establish new FCC IDs”
While this transfer provides a few answers, it also begs many questions. There is specifically one big question that I feel has been answered, but leaves me with bigger questions and concerns. That is of course about the upgrade to Nougat.
I have been hearing rumors, and it’s very important that I identify that these have been nothing but rumors, that TCL/BlackBerry Mobile chose not to provide the Nougat update to the DTEK line. That was a rumor which I was quickly able to pass off as unlikely as TCL/BlackBerry Mobile were not responsible for these devices and it would not be their decision. Obviously, I was incorrect about that, as since May these devices have been under the control of TCL/BlackBerry Mobile.
Now, allow me to opine over the situation. The DTEK50 and DTEK60 are no longer for sale. Production has ceased and it appears all stock has sold through. At the same time, BlackBerry Mobile is still in the midst of the worldwide roll out of the impressive KEYone, all while surely preparing for the future release of future BlackBerry devices. I could easily see why the DTEK line would fall in to a forgotten category. The fact that these devices were quite literally the last of their kind and had their retail life cut short due to some fairly dramatic and wholly unique changes in business cannot go unnoticed. But unique is the key word.
The BlackBerry user is unique. Our community is unique. In terms of communities based around smart phones, we are the first, and longest lasting. We scoff at things that happen to other brands and users of those brands, and we promote and evangelize all things BlackBerry. Sure, there have been those that have left for something shiny that caught their attention, and yes, some of those have returned from their squirrel chasing to see what this new future for BlackBerry will bring to them. But most of us that are still here, have been here all along, and have no intentions of leaving. However, there are certain things that we have grown accustomed to, and have expectations of those continuing.
One of those things that we have come to expect is a current software for the reasonable life of our phones. One of the things that BlackBerry was amazing at in terms of hardware was supporting their users through software updates. It was amazing to know that the BlackBerry Z10 would be running the same current software as the BlackBerry Passport, and the upgrade cycle would continue until the phone was just no longer able to support the newest OS.
Now, TCL/BlackBerry Mobile is new to our BlackBerry community. They’re not new to phones in the slightest, but I doubt that their other brands have ever seen a community the likes of the BlackBerry community. I’m sure that an Alcatel user would not be too upset if their year old phone was not receiving the latest update. Furthermore, I could easily see anyone from outside the world of BlackBerry seeing updating these phones as a business risk. After all, why will people purchase a new phone if their old one utilizes the same OS? As I said before, BlackBerry users are unique.
No doubt, many phone companies utilize planned obsolescence as a sales method. iPhone users and Samsung users know that they will need to move on to newer phones in order to be current or to be secure. There is no doubt that the upgrade cycle of a BlackBerry user is much longer than that of other brands, and this hurt BlackBerry 10’s future. But that wasn’t the only thing hurting Blackberry 10’s future. There is no doubt that BlackBerry 10’s “failure” was a lack of apps. BlackBerry Android will not suffer that same fate. It has all the apps. But BlackBerry 10 had something I doubt any other phone company has. It had collectors.
Many BlackBerry users have and use multiple phones. Most of us within UTB have multiple phones with multiple lines, not out of business needs, but out of our love for BlackBerry devices. We have different form factors that we use for different use cases. Right now, I carry with me every day a KEYone and a Priv. Before that, it was always the Priv and one of my BlackBerry 10 phones, usually a Leap. And before that, it was always my Passport and another of my BlackBerry 10 phones. We have always been able to switch between form factors, while enjoying a current OS. This led to collectors. It led to loyal users. And it led to extremely vocal promoters of the brand and devices.
Realistically, the BlackBerry community had the drive to be on the street and online promoting. We had multiple form factors that would enable us to find one that appealed to any user that was looking for a new phone. What we didn’t have, was apps, and while that didn’t affect many of us, it surely affected the decision of users from other platforms. In the end, we had a fairly large hindrance in attempting to sway those from other platforms to join ours. We don’t have that hindrance any more.
If I could offer some advice to TCL/BlackBerry Mobile, it would be to update the DTEK line. Update it and do it quickly. Outside the world of BlackBerry, planned obsolescence is needed because each generation of phone looks and feels almost exactly like the one before it. BlackBerry has always been different, and it should stay that way. Offering a different form factor, will bring us, the collectors. Keeping them current, will keep us as promoters. Updating phones beyond the time frame of your competitors will be a huge competitive advantage. You have the opportunity to become a hero to the amazing BlackBerry community, please take it.