TL;DR: BlackBerry = Old BlackBerry, now a software company; BlackBerry Mobile = New BlackBerry Smartphones, TCL a hardware company
Coming out of retirement to celebrate 10 Years of CrackBerry, it immediately became apparent that life in BlackBerry land is a little more complicated than it used to be. With this editorial, I plan to set things straight, for my sanity and hopefully for everyone else's too. Think of this article as a Public Service Announcement. It's the kind of message that needs to get passed on and absorbed by other media outlets and tech journalists too, just so the BlackBerry stories stay straight out there, especially as we head into the launch of the BlackBerry 'Mercury'. If you see somebody getting the facts wrong, send them the link to this story!
BlackBerry Mobile is launching the BlackBerry Mercury; not BlackBerry
Late last year, BlackBerry signed a software and brand licensing deal with TCL granting them the rights to design, manufacture, sell and provide customer support for BlackBerry-branded mobile devices. Additionally, TCL is managing all sales and distribution and will serve as a global distributor of new BlackBerry-branded mobile devices along with their dedicated sales teams. Effectively, this means TCL is designing, building and marketing BlackBerry Smartphones for themselves, not for BlackBerry. BlackBerry is supporting TCL in this partnership, but TCL is now driving the Android-powered BlackBerry Smartphone train in almost all markets globally (a few exceptions - I'll get to that later).
As we saw in January at CES, TCL teased the BlackBerry Mercury. Since then, the TCL name has faded into the background, and BlackBerry Mobile has emerged as the consumer-facing company brand that Mercury and I assume other future BlackBerry Smartphones under this arrangement will come to market under.
As evidence of this, look no further than to the two companies' social pages:
- @BlackBerry Twitter Page - "Software is the New BlackBerry"
- @BlackBerry Facebook Page - "Software is the New BlackBerry"
- @BBMobile Twitter Page - BlackBerry Mobile (note the website field links to tctusa.com)
Original BlackBerry is redefining themselves as a software company, while BlackBerry Mobile is all about selling phones. So when it comes to Mercury, the accurate statement would be to say that BlackBerry Mobile is officially unveiling the BlackBerry Mercury at Mobile World Congress on February 25th. It would be incorrect to say that BlackBerry is.
From my perspective, this is super important for both consumers, business, and the media to understand. As we all have seen in recent years, the media tends not to hold back when talking about BlackBerry - it tends to be a pessimistic view ever since their stock price started sliding from their peak. As Mercury launches, I can already see the media doing their forecasts around whether or not 'Mercury' will change BlackBerry's fortunes or not. The reality is, while I'm sure there is some benefit to BlackBerry if 'Mercury' sales go through the roof, it is TCL/BlackBerry Mobile that is launching the phone. I also think it's important for consumers to understand this message too. We all carry a lot of baggage in regards to BlackBerry of old. In reality, BlackBerry Mobile is a fresh startup. It's an exciting story!
How I'll Write About BlackBerry and BlackBerry Mobile Going Forward
As I write articles, am interviewed about BlackBerry, and speak about BlackBerry-related things going forward, I'm going to be very deliberate in how I use the names BlackBerry and BlackBerry Mobile.
BlackBerry - I'll refer to BlackBerry when I'm writing about BBRY, the company that John Chen is now CEO of that has all of the BlackBerry history tied to it. When I'm referring to CEOs Mike Lazaridis, Jim Balsillie, Thorsten Heins and all the old BlackBerry OS, BlackBerry PlayBook, BlackBerry 10 devices we've used through the years, it will be BlackBerry that I refer to. QNX belongs to BlackBerry too, as do many other topics like BlackBerry's software services.
BlackBerry Mobile - When I'm referring to this new generation of Android-powered BlackBerry Smartphones being designed, manufactured and marketed by TCL, I'll be referring to BlackBerry Mobile. Keep in mind that BlackBerry is supporting BlackBerry Mobile on the software and security front in the phones it manufacturers - BlackBerry provides the BlackBerry Android apps, security hardening, and regular security patches to Android for BlackBerry Mobile's phones.
- The additional confusion: Beyond their agreement with TCL, through a joint venture BlackBerry also licensed their brand/software to a company called PT BB Merah Putih that will be marketing BlackBerry phones in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia. So when referring to BlackBerry Mobile, I won't be referring to the phones launched in these markets.
PSA: The future of BlackBerry Smartphones is clearly Android
Immersing myself into the world of BlackBerry once again, it's clear that the future of BlackBerry phones is ANDROID powered. Within the CrackBerry community we have a significant percentage of users who still love and use their BlackBerry 10 phones and really, really, REALLY want BlackBerry / BlackBerry Mobile to manufacture more BlackBerry 10 phones.
BlackBerry is clearly out of the hardware game now, and BlackBerry Mobile is manufacturing Android phones
As much I hate to say it, it's just not going to happen. BlackBerry is clearly out of the hardware game now, and BlackBerry Mobile is manufacturing Android phones. Getting angry and holding out for more BlackBerry 10 phones isn't going to help make it happen, so my suggestion for those who love BlackBerry is to start getting excited about your next BlackBerry being Android powered. You're just going to be stewing and angry for a long time if you hold out hope - it's less painful to treat BlackBerry 10 as an end of life product at this point.
I'd say you could hold onto your BB10 phones forever (BBOS too for that matter), but that won't help BlackBerry or BlackBerry Mobile either. The best way to ensure a strong portfolio of BlackBerry phones into the future from BlackBerry Mobile is to make sure the Mercury is a success!
Why I'm genuinely excited for BlackBerry Mobile
Along with everybody working at BlackBerry, all of us at CrackBerry poured everything we had into the launch of BlackBerry 10. When it didn't pan out the way we hoped, I won't lie, things got depressing. Over the months that followed, I saw literally hundreds of my friends who worked at BlackBerry leave the company for new opportunities. When John Chen was appointed interim CEO of BlackBerry, I was hopeful at first that he'd develop a grand plan for rebooting BlackBerry's stake in the smartphone game. It became very clear early on that he was more pragmatic than passionate about BlackBerry hardware. Chen repeatedly said that he would do what it takes to improve the BBRY share price and that he would not lose money on BlackBerry hardware. If he could make money on smartphones, he'd have BlackBerry keep making smartphones. If he couldn't, he'd figure out other alternatives. With time, it became crystal clear that hardware was out and software would become the future of BlackBerry.
I don't think anything John Chen did was wrong in his approach, but the reality for myself and CrackBerry is that WE GET EXCITED ABOUT SHINY NEW HARDWARE. As much as I appreciate security and mobile device management and always admire the crazy stuff the QNX team gets up to, what brings out the excitement in the CrackBerry community and gets CrackBerry Kevin jonesing are awesome new phones.
BlackBerry Mobile is a totally different team - but the smartphone values and passion that I've admired in BlackBerry for over a decade are there
Getting a taste of the Mercury at CES and chatting with the BlackBerry Mobile folks a bit, I quickly saw that this is a team that LOVES the BlackBerry brand and is clearly passionate about making sexy hardware and BlackBerry phones that deliver a killer user experience. Speaking to BlackBerry Mobile I felt the same passion as I did in the early days of BlackBerry OS and BlackBerry 10 when talking to members of the BlackBerry team. BlackBerry Mobile is a totally different team - but the smartphone values and passion that I've admired in BlackBerry for over a decade are there.
I think TCL is one of those companies a lot of people don't know much about (it tends to get labeled as a "Chinese manufacturer " and nobody goes into deeper detail). In reality, it's a very global company. A lot of their product design and marketing happens in America. They have a CEO who is from France. They have operations in many markets, and like most smartphone manufacturers today, they manufacture their hardware in China (the TCL story is not unlike Apple when you think about it).
As we head into the launch phase of the BlackBerry 'Mercury' by BlackBerry Mobile, I'm genuinely excited. It feels like the good 'ole days of BlackBerry are coming back, and it's not just a catchphrase!