As a long time BlackBerry fan, this is painful.
I am a long time BlackBerry fan. I have been on BlackBerry since 2007, and have been part of the online BlackBerry community since 2008. I have used BBOS, BB10, and BlackBerry Android. Except for a short time during the transition from BB10 to BlackBerry Android, I’ve loved every second of it.
When BlackBerry released BB10 and started to come under fire from Apple and Samsung using online trolls, I was one of many that spent entirely too much time fighting them. This website was created to help combat the negativity of those trolls. In turn, because of this website, I have been invited to BlackBerry’s California headquarters. I was given a private tour of the QNX Jaguar. I was given the opportunity to have well known BlackBerry executives guest on our website’s podcast. I was made a “BlackBerry Elite” until that program came to an end.
What’s the point of me sharing all of this? To show that I am not some bandwagon fan. I have been a fan of BlackBerry through it’s highs and lows, and that has never wavered. Even today, I’m still promoting BlackBerry, and cheering on the company that we all were afraid would be gone by now. I have been accused several times of being a “rabid fanboy” who justified bad decisions. But each time I’ve been accused of this, it’s been because I have truthfully seen a positive outcome from those decisions. The fact that BlackBerry is still around? I see that as proof that I was right. However, I feel it’s finally time for me to speak out about something. And that something is TCL.
TCL is one of three companies that partnered with BlackBerry to keep producing BlackBerry smartphones when BlackBerry walked away from hardware. TCL formed BlackBerry Mobile, which we believed would be a company-within-a-company. A division of TCL that was dedicated to BlackBerry. We believed we would see a lot more BlackBerry devices come out of this deal thanks to TCL’s strength in manufacturing, partnered with BlackBerry software. I was excited about the move. At a time that it appeared it was over for BlackBerry hardware, TCL was a chance for them to continue. I was part of the BlackBerry community that was thankful for TCL. Now though, I feel extremely let down.
Let’s talk about the positive first though. BlackBerry Mobile released the KEYone. Which, after leaving BB10 behind for the growing pains that came with the Priv, was an amazing phone. In fact, it was my favorite BlackBerry device ever, until the KEY2 came out. The KEY2 took everything right about the KEYone, and made it better. So much better. Then came the KEY2 LE. The phone which BlackBerry “power users” such as myself shouldn’t have liked. It was the “entry level” KEY device. But guess what? I absolutely loved it. It wasn’t as premium as the KEY2, but the plastic build and frets on the keyboard felt like the BlackBerry of old that I loved so much. I still have my BlackBerry KEY2 LE active with my secondary SIM in it.
But it’s been over a year since that device was released, and there has been no official word of a new device. In fact, at Mobile World Congress this year, as other phone manufacturers presented folding phones, and phones with multiple premium cameras, BlackBerry Mobile presented a red version of the KEY2 with increased storage and an increased price tag. As a fan, I was extremely frustrated by this. I wasn’t expecting an announcement of a new phone, the timing wouldn’t have made sense. However I believed as a fan that keeps up with the mobile world, that BlackBerry Mobile presented themselves for criticism with this move. I believed it would have been much smarter to not release a new color of an old device, and simply stay quiet at MWC19, and not present themselves as a target.
But that wasn’t my first frustration with BlackBerry Mobile, not at all. TCL walked into a whole new situation when they partnered with BlackBerry. They entered a world where the brand they were producing had a fan community. In fact, it was the first mobile phone fan community. There was a long list of international fansites dedicated to BlackBerry, each with their own community of users which interacted daily. This site was a big part of that community. We were all connected in our love of BlackBerry and most of us that ran these sites were friends that communicated frequently over BBM, and worked together in our promotion of BlackBerry. I think it’s fair to say that this was something that TCL was not accustomed to. I doubt that the budget brand Alcatel had a fan community, and definately had nothing comparable to what came with BlackBerry.
But TCL/BlackBerry Mobile seemingly cared little to nothing about the BlackBerry fan community. They immediately tied themselves to Crackberry. Now, befriending Crackberry made sense. I understand that. It was by far the biggest site dedicated to BlackBerry. However, unlike almost all other BlackBerry sites, it didn’t play well with others. And we smaller sites soon found ourselves in a weird position with BlackBerry Mobile. Used to speaking freely with BlackBerry, many sites found themselves completely ignored by BlackBerry Mobile. The sites like this one, that were lucky enough to get a response from BlackBerry Mobile, found ourselves shuffled off to third party PR companies. The few that received review devices quickly discovered that we would not receive devices until after Crackberry and other non-BlackBerry centric mobile tech sites had completed their reviews. While this, I’m sure, helped BlackBerry Mobile’s partner Crackberry with clicks, it also ensured that the positive BlackBerry fan reviews never saw the same circulation that the negative “tech reviewer” sites saw. It was an extreme frustration that made reviewing the devices less exciting and more disheartening. It’s something which I have never spoke about publicly, but feel that these decisions by BlackBerry Mobile helped erode the BlackBerry community, and kill more than a few BlackBerry fan sites.
Now, after essentially nothing but silence from TCL about BlackBerry, suddenly there’s a blast of news. That news? That TCL has no intention of bringing 5G to BlackBerry devices. Now, initially, many of us were just excited to hear that TCL is still thinking about BlackBerry. The thought of another BlackBerry device was enough to get us thinking again. But then it hit me just how much TCL doesn’t get the BlackBerry user.
“I don’t see the point of 5G on a BlackBerry” said TCL’s general manager of marketing, Stefan Streit, “It’s not an entertainment device and you can already get your email really fast.”
Mr. Streit, there is more to a BlackBerry than email. BlackBerry users expect more than email and a keyboard.
BlackBerry was arguably the first smartphone. BlackBerry users were something which we had never seen before. We were connected. We were hyper connected. Sure, email was a basic building block of that, but there was so much more. Yes, we could email, but we could also take care of business on our BlackBerry. We had apps before apps were a thing. We could theme our devices, and surf the net. And as other smartphones hit the scene, we watched as they became pocket arcades while we continued to do what we needed to do, better than what those new devices were able to do.
On BB10, apps ruled the rest of the mobile world, and we didn’t have many. The rest of the world spent much of their time sharing photos of their lunch on Instagram. What was BlackBerry users doing? We were on BBM Channels creating brands and businesses. iPhone and Android users were consuming media, while we were creating it.
Mr. Streit, we want more than email. The mobile world has matured enough so that we can do proper email on any device now. The fact that we can be more accurate on a BlackBerry physical keyboard just isn’t enough.
I’m just going to say it. TCL is making a mistake. They are coming out with new self branded phones. And are working on innovative things for these phones such as folding screens. But in doing so, they are giving up something which most companies would beg for. They are giving up fans. TCL holds both the BlackBerry brand, and the Palm brand. Both brands had very loyal fan communities. I suppose I should be thankful that TCL hasn’t done to BlackBerry what they did to Palm. But I am worried about the future.
TCL, I ask that you revisit the decisions you have made in the past. I ask that instead of ignoring, you embrace the BlackBerry fan community. Respond to us. Talk to us. Ask us what we need, and attempt to actually meet those needs, and you just might find yourself with something that BlackBerry had, that you never did. And that your new branded phones never will. That is an army of supporters and promoters.
I hope TCL comes around. I would love to have a new BlackBerry phone, and one that does more than just “gets email really fast”. If we get one, I will be promoting the device just as I have with every other TCL made BlackBerry phone. But to be fair, I will surely not be purchasing or promoting TCL’s upcoming self branded phones.
Come on TCL, BlackBerry fans are waiting on you. It’s time to finally come through for us.