BlackBerry is going to keep making high-end, QWERTY phones, with a few touch-screen models as well, but the company isn't putting all of its financial eggs in the handset basket, CEO John Chen and global enterprise services head John Sims told a reporters' round-table today.
Fending off perpetual queries about BlackBerry's struggling phone business, Chen insisted that "I love the handset business, [and] I think we can make the handset business profitable ... we're committed to the handset business."
With the company's new tight focus on enterprise sales, the upcoming QWERTY-packing BlackBerry Classic (formerly known as the Q20) will be a key product, he said. BlackBerry Bold loyalists, who he and Sims called out several times during the roundtable, can expect to see more keyboarded phones.
"We'll concentrate on high-end phones for the enterprise customer," Chen said. "the majority of our phones will be keyboarded, but there will still be touch screens."
He gave a personal anecdote to show why his business customers prefer QWERTY phones, which have largely been abandoned by other manufacturers. Just that morning, he said, he had tapped out a message to a colleague on a touch-screen phone which autocorrected "in the car" to "in the cat."
"I like the QWERTY keyboards a lot more," he said.
Don't expect to see inexpensive BlackBerrys popping up on shelves before 2016. While BlackBerry has some room in the consumer space in countries like Indonesia, in the rest of the world. "the only people we can really interest are the prosumers, at least for the next 2-3 years," Chen said.
Chen said he's being kept up at night by the loss of the SAF - the service activation fee BlackBerry gets from every BlackBerry 5 or BlackBerry 7 device brought online. Sims said this is all part of moving to a completely platform-independent services business.
"From an enterprise perspective, the positioning is very much cross-platform," Sims said. "The relative profitability across those [platforms] is for all intents and purposes relatively the same. In the past, when BES10 was introduced, we would have mumbled that we also support iOS and Android; we don't mumble any more," he said.
Sims mentioned some upcoming features that might help juice up excitement around BlackBerry's services. Desktop video chat will be coming to the enterprise version of BlackBerry Messenger, although probably not to the consumer version because "we haven't seen the pull from the consumer market" for a desktop client.
The company's new BES 12 server will also be available as a cloud deployment so businesses in developing countries can deploy it more quickly without dedicated hardware. The server will support Windows Phone devices. And in the future, integration with Microsoft Office 365 is coming, he said.
"I kind of look at it as our own BlackBerry iCloud," Sims said. "We'll start to offer more services that can be consumed as a service by enterprises."