BlackBerry proves it's still kicking, announces Z3, Q20 smartphones

BlackBerry has carefully chosen the second day of the MWC conference to announce two new smartphones that run BB 10 OS, namely the full-touch Z3 and QWERTY-equipped Q20. Smart choice. After all, the big players have already showcased their latest products, which gives the Canadian company the chance to be put center-stage today.

Neither the Z3 nor the Q20 are meant as replacements for the currently-available Z10, Z30, Q5 or Q10, which BlackBerry introduced last year. The new devices are instead aimed at emerging markets and the core BlackBerry audience, respectively.

BlackBerry's move to target emerging markets hardly comes as a shock when we consider the ongoing drop in the average selling price (ASP). In mid-November 2013, research firm IDC placed the smartphone ASP at $317, 12.5 percent lower than a year before. Even the phablet ASP is on the same descending path. The drop means that more and more consumers are buying less expensive devices, which is to be expected as adoption levels increase across the world, especially in emerging markets where cheaper devices prevail.

That does not mean that the high-end and mid-range smartphone markets are going extinct, but that device manufacturers must rethink their strategies to cater to the needs of a larger pool of prospective buyers. That means introducing inexpensive smartphones. In BlackBerry's case we are looking at the new Z3. The company may have other cheap devices in its lineup, but nowadays people can take advantage of newer and most likely better options, at similar prices, instead.

Blackberry has not provided many details related to the hardware specifications of the new Z3. What we know is it is made by Foxconn, has a 5-inch screen which is most certainly this big to appeal to prospective Android buyers of entry-level smartphones, and an FM radio. There is also the promise of a "long lasting battery", but that is pretty much it. Oh, and, it runs BlackBerry 10 OS 10.2.1, which I discussed here. This smartphone will be available in Indonesia, for a yet unspecified price at a yet unspecified date. Do not expect it to burn a hole in the wallet. Brand blog CrackBerry estimates it will cost less than $200 when it goes on sale.

The BlackBerry Q20 tells another story. This device comes as a response to the feedback the company has received from its fans, who demand smartphones that stick to the tried-and-true recipe of the traditional BlackBerry QWERTY keyboards and navigation keys. Basically, all they want is the essence of the traditional BlackBerry smartphone wrapped up in a shiny new device.

"In my first 90 days on the job, I consistently heard from our ardent BlackBerry customers that the hard buttons and trackpad are an essential part of the BlackBerry QWERTY experience, that made their BlackBerry smartphone their go-to productivity tool", says the company's CEO John Chen. "I want these customers to know that we heard them, and this new smartphone will be for them. Today, we're delighted to announce the new BlackBerry Q20 smartphone, which is designed to give you the distinct experience that every BlackBerry QWERTY loyalist and high-productivity business customer absolutely loves. With the BlackBerry Q20 smartphone, you'll get the familiar hard buttons and trackpad that you want, along with the best email service, the best keyboard experience and the best battery life possible".

Basically BlackBerry is going back to its roots on the QWERTY front, by bringing back the menu, back, send and end buttons as well as the classical trackpad. Unlike the Q10 and Q5 which have a 3.1-inch screen, the Q20 will have a larger 3.5-inch display with touch, which is not to say BlackBerry has forgotten about those who want a physical keyboard but wish to use their thumbs to navigate. As with the Z3, the company also promises the Q20 will have "superior battery life" due to its large battery. The QWERTY smartphone will, however, be built out of premium materials, with the promise of reliability and durability being made.

The BlackBerry Q20 will be offered starting in the second half of this year, which is less than ideal as it will face even more competition (albeit not from QWERTY smartphones, which are few and far between) from the latest Android smartphones and iPhones. There is no pricing information available at this point.

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