BlackBerry will attempt its last hurrah with a pair of mid-range smartphones

The company plans to launch two more Android phones this year before it decides whether to quit the device business

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Credit: Florence Ion

BlackBerry isn't throwing in the towel -- at least not just yet.

In what could be described as a last ditch effort, the company's chief executive, John Chen, told The National that BlackBerry plans to launch two mid-range Android smartphones this year. One of those phones will come equipped with a physical keyboard similar to that featured on last year's launch, the BlackBerry Priv, while the second smartphone will offer a full touchscreen experience.

The company recently eschewed its own BlackBerry 10 operating system in favor for Google's Android, but that wasn't enough to help the struggling manufacturer. BlackBerry sold a measly 600,000 smartphones (the total for all models, including the Priv) in the financial quarter ended March 31 -- 100,000 fewer sales than in the previous quarter, and 1 million fewer than in the same quarter a year earlier.

The company has not said how Privs it had sold, but originally forecast sales of 850,000 units. Chen did say BlackBerry priced the Priv too high in a "saturated" Android market, which suggests the Priv has sold poorly.

Those low numbers have lead to some speculation that BlackBerry will eventually kill its device business and focus solely on its security-focused software services. In fact, Chen has said more for than a year that the BlackBerry device business was in danger of being shut down, and he said so again to The National this week: "Since I started at the company [in November 2013], I've been saying I'll make the handset business profitable. If I can't make it profitable because the market won't let me, then I'll get out of the handset business."

By contrast, BlackBerry expects the software division to grow about 30 percent in the next year.

BlackBerry has been attempting a serious comeback for several years, selling a series of devices that have all sold poorly. The BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10 were the first BlackBerry 10-based comeback devices, followed by the odd BlackBerry Passport, and the Q10-like BlackBerry Classic. Then came the Android-based BlackBerry Priv in late 2015, which added some privacy features to its Android Lollipop operating system.

That first Android phone was way too pricey. Chen admitted that "the fact that we came out with a high end phone [as our first Android device] was probably not as wise as it should have been." He added that "a lot of enterprise customers have said to us, ‘I want to buy your phone but $700 is a little too steep for me. I'm more interested in a $400 device.'" BlackBerry's next two smartphones will be mid-range devices because the high cost of the Priv did little to attract users.

Unfortunately, there's no hint on when we can expect to see these new devices. But BlackBerry will have to act soon before it gets overshadowed by other major Android device makers. With Samsung leading the way with enterprise-focused security, and Android for Work becoming easier to integrate, BlackBerry is quickly losing its marketing angle. 

This story, "BlackBerry will attempt its last hurrah with a pair of mid-range smartphones" was originally published by Greenbot.

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