BlackBerry hosted a live unveiling of their newest smartphone, the KEY2, this Thursday. The company’s marketing strategies and messaging show that BlackBerry is aiming squarely at business professionals with its KEY2 smartphone. While this is the right move it may also be their only move. The KEY2 is very similar to the KEYone, however, does offer some improvements to the keyboard, memory configuration, rear camera and overall design. The processor is a mid-range Snapdragon 660 which one could argue does not align with the more premium price point ($649). Conversely, battery performance will remain very strong. This is not a mass market product and is geared at the security-minded professional. Or more specifically the security-minded professional who wants a physical keyboard. This will limit the attention it receives from carriers. The question is whether the recent spate of privacy breaches (here’s looking at you Facebook) will elevate BlackBerry’s messaging and status among technology decision makers and possibly consumers…and can it substantiate its claims as the “World’s most secure Android smartphone” in a way that resonates and is sufficiently differentiated from other vendors.
BlackBerry is wise to brag about its security heritage, and we like the messaging it is using for the KEY2. The company’s “an icon reborn” statement is bold; BlackBerry also emphasized what it thinks makes a great business-grade smartphone: an all-day battery, a physical keyboard, and differentiating productivity and privacy-enhancing functionality. In the unveiling presentation, Alain Lejeune, SVP of the Worldwide Mobile Phone Division at TCL (BlackBerry’s primary licensing partner) spoke at length on the KEY2’s battery specs., and its ability to perform for a full shift of rigorous use. BlackBerry was keen to show off the KEY2’s physical keyboard had evolved too―the KEY2 retains the fingerprint sensor on the spacebar from the KEYone, but has added the ability for the keyboard to operate as a track pad (an intriguing feature), as well as and a shortcut function that will allow the user to efficiently navigate between apps without having to return to the home screen―multi-tasking is tricky on smartphones, and the KEY2’s capabilities showed well.
BlackBerry emphasized its security heritage throughout the KEY2 reveal, and plainly stated that the KEY2 was “the world’s most secure Android smartphone”. Alex Thurber, the company’s Mobility Solutions Division SVP went into some detail on BlackBerry’s “security from the ground up” approach and flashed a slide detailing the company’s layered security architecture (see below).
Competitors such as Apple, Google and Samsung have also focused on augmenting the embedded security elements of their respective platforms―each has made progress with their own sandboxing and secure boot mechanisms by using sophisticated hardware-level cryptographic and encryption techniques―not surprisingly, they are utilizing many of the techniques that BlackBerry called out in its security architecture slide―but, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate on security.
Focusing specifically on business professionals with a strong security message makes sense for BlackBerry. The company is very aware of the importance of not degrading user experiences on their devices with the addition of enhanced privacy and security features. In this regard, BlackBerry has made a valiant attempt at differentiation with the updated sandbox/containerization features in its updated locker solution. Locker was released with the KEYone, but has been updated to emphasize privacy concerns. Locker accomplishes this by adding app protection as well as secure/private browsing (which can also be used to privately open links sent in emails or messages). In addition, BlackBerry’s embedded security software (named DTEK) has a more refined interface, incorporates a system scanner that can make security recommendations on apps running in the background or foreground―DTEK adds additional protections by intercepting requests from apps for access to sensitive permissions such as the KEY2’s camera and microphone. If an app tries to access one or both of those hardware items, the device will alert users and request permission(s) to access the features.
Excerpt from BlackBerry’s KEY2 Commercial:
“This is the device that keeps our data safe.” Business professional #1
“I used to love my BlackBerry.” Business professional #2
“I still do.” Business Professional #3 (gazing at her KEY2)
While data security is an easy thing to say and a hard thing to prove, BlackBerry is hopeful that its reputation in the industry will make the KEY2 sufficiently attractive to business professionals. The revenues the company derives from smartphone sales was under $100 million in 2018; while BlackBerry holds a very small percentage of the global smartphone market, the company maintains a healthy roster of large financial services, healthcare and state and local government entities as customers. The KEY2 has all of the features needed to appeal to business professionals who value security, efficiency, and reliability above all else; but, displacing its rivals remains a tall order. If BlackBerry is willing to invest in marketing and can partner effectively, it certainly has an opportunity to grow its smartphone revenues going forward. TCL has also come a long way quickly with its manufacturing processes.
Strong security and privacy features, along with a battery capable of handling a full shift are compelling reasons for organizations to contemplate the KEY2. However, considering the KEYone sold fewer than 1M units in 2017, BlackBerry will need to do more from a marketing perspective to make tangible gains. The KEY2 does deliver on security, privacy, reliability, and has differentiated features; the physical keyboard may actually be compelling for a segment of business professional that have yet to use one. But, we think tighter integration with its UEM solution may be the most compelling way to get organizations to adopt the KEY2. Many of the company’s existing customers are not using BlackBerry smartphones and are viable targets; while these numbers will not move the needle, BlackBerry does have an opportunity to offer customers an end-to-end solution that includes a device.
For a more in depth look in BlackBerry’s overall business, stay tuned for our upcoming report “With Its Handset Business in Its Rear-View Mirror, BlackBerry Shows It Can Evolve…But Where Does it Go From Here?”.
View the 2018 Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices Research Outline to learn more.