Bye-bye BlackBerry as handset maker pulls the plug

Is this finally the end for the once-iconic device which in its heyday ruled the business world?

By David Flynn, February 4 2020
Bye-bye BlackBerry as handset maker pulls the plug

RIP BlackBerry, 1999-2020? Having plummeted market dominance to irrelevance, the once-iconic smartphone could be gone for good, with manufacturer TCL deciding to axe production of the devices in August 2020.

TCL has been behind the design, manufacture and sales of BlackBerry handsets since 2016, but running on Android rather than the BlackBerry's own operating system – similar to a move made the same year by Nokia, which licensed partner HMD Global to produce a new line of Android-powered Nokia handsets.

TCL's BlackBerry KeyOne brought the familiar keyboard and security into an Android-powered world.
TCL's BlackBerry KeyOne brought the familiar keyboard and security into an Android-powered world.

"As of August 31, 2020, TCL Communication will no longer be selling BlackBerry-branded mobile devices,” the Chinese tech company confirms. "TCL has no further rights to design, manufacturers or sell any new BlackBerry mobile devices.”

TCL is calling time on the BlackBerry as it ramps up its own-branded line of smartphones and other 'smart' devices, including foldables built around the company's own flexible OLED screen technology.

TCL is leaving BlackBerry behind in order to launch a series of own-brand devices.
TCL is leaving BlackBerry behind in order to launch a series of own-brand devices.

At its peak, the BlackBerry was the device – part business tool, part status symbol – long before Apple popularised the concept by redefined smartphones as touchscreen slabs backed by a substantial and easy to use app ecosystem.

With a QWERTY keyboard for the nimble-fingered, email on the go via mobile and WiFi networks connectivity, plus long multi-day battery life, the BlackBerry was ahead of its time.

Its secure messaging and email found favour among among government and corporate users, while the Pavlovian ping as new emails arrived saw the device dubbed CrackBerry for its addictive nature.

The BlackBerry Bold was a high water mark for the company.
The BlackBerry Bold was a high water mark for the company.

At its peak, BlackBerry controlled 50% of the US smartphone market and 20% worldwide – but by 2017, technology research firm Gartner was reporting that  99.6 percent of new smartphones were running Android or iOS, while BlackBerry’s market share was reduced to a rounding error of 0.0 percent. This hero-to-zero downfall mapped a steady decline in sync with the rocket rise of iPhone and Android.

The BlackBerry's keyboard was considered such an essential element that many early competing smartphones aped the feature, convinced that 'power users' would never forego this for a touchscreen.

BlackBerry co-founder Mike Lazaridis dismissed the nascent threat of the iPhone for that reason, saying "I couldn't type on it and I still can't type on it, and a lot of my friends can't type on it... It's hard to type on a piece of glass."

Not that Lazaridis was Robinson Crusoe on dissing the device which soon demolished his business. "This is the most expensive phone in the world," said then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. "And it doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard. Which makes it not a very good email machine. There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."

While some other companies have produced BlackBerry devices for Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, TCL was BlackBerry's prime mover on a global scale. There's no indication yet if BlackBerry will seek another manufacturing partner or return to making its own phones.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

21 Aug 2019

Total posts 64

The fact that there are as of Friday morning at 6.45 am, no comments is a confirmation of the apathy towards a once essential piece of kit. Loved my BB phones way back when. Vale BB

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 663

Hang on to your olde Blackberry Nick, they could become quite a collectors item and highly valued. After all, what's the eBay market value of a 3 year old iPhone? Answer: similar to that of a certain European vehicle manufacturer (no names mentioned).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jul 2017

Total posts 15

I miss the battery life...

12 Dec 2018

Total posts 21

Same same. When I had my BlackBerry (3 overall) I could not imagine ever owning another smartphone. Even when family and friends all bought the first 3G iphone I was proud of my loyalty, and must admit a little smug at their willingness to buy such a novelty item. Now with my latest (and 4th or 5th - who can keep up) iphone I can not imagine ever needing anything else. Ever. Maybe.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Feb 2013

Total posts 15

Great gadgets. Still use mine in the car for digital sharp music. Made in Canada and destined to last physically longer than the smartphone that I was forced to buy when WhatsApp pulled their support for BBs original OS. Probably whimsical but notice that cassettes are making a return and records (albums) have been rediscovered by the next generation so who knows...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 May 2020

Total posts 1

The wife was an avid CrackBerry. Personally, I went from an older Nokia handset to a HTC Android device.

When the wife was given an iPhone she nearly cried and took her some considerable time to adjust!

And a little known fact, if you buy a new Ford, the Sync3 infotainment system is designed on the BlackBerry QNX platform.

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