So BlackBerry has attempted to go mainstream.
Pardon the slight tinge of sarcasm here, but honestly, this of late seems to be a cycle with the once-smartphone behemoth from Canada – the talk of a device that will revive its fortunes, followed by a device that is very good but a tad on the expensive, followed by yet another device that is more affordable.
The quaintly named DTEK 50 follows in some very illustrious footsteps:
- The Z10, which followed a strangely long sabbatical in which BlackBerry overhauled its OS from scratch and in retrospect allowed iOS and Android to consolidate their positions and even invade its coveted enterprise territory, came with a stiff price tag, was followed by the more affordable Z5 and Z3, both of which did reasonably well, but much too late in the day.
- The Q10, which blended the iconic QWERTY keyboard of BlackBerry with its new touch-friendly OS, also came in the expensive category. It too was followed by a more affordable Q5, which again fared better thanks to its lower price tag, but again, only after considerable time had been lost.
- The Passport was again hailed as a BlackBerry saviour but once again was found too expensive by some. The Leap was released later, but – this is getting familiar, isn’t it? – once again, slightly better sales were offset by time being sacrificed
Of course, some will point out that the “give them a great, expensive product followed by a more affordable one” is classic BlackBerry strategy – after all, did not the bestselling Curve 8520 come on the heels of much more expensive devices (like the first Bold)? Was not the idea to give the audience a taster of something great and then follow it up with a more affordable, if slightly scaled down version of it?
Well, yes, it was. And it worked for quite a while. But in the era of BlackBerry 10 and the years that followed, it seemed less like a strategy and more like damage control. And honestly, we feel that is what the DTEK 50 is primed to do as well – compensate for the lack of enthusiasm for the Priv.
The DTEK 50 comes in the wake of the first BlackBerry Android device, the Priv, another “BB saviour” that took flak for its price. And unlike the Priv, the DTEK 50 is relatively affordable, at USD 299 (the Priv was launched at USD 699, after all). Like the Priv, however, it too runs Android. And like it again, it plays on the security angle, so much so that it claims to be the “world’s most secure Android phone” (even more than the Priv, which costs twice as much, we wonder? But that is another story). Indeed, there are stacks of security safeguards in there to ensure that your phone is safe in the data sense. And we are willing to bet that most of them will work very well indeed – hey, this is BlackBerry the enterprise wizard we are talking about, after all. And surely security is a big issue for Android users as numerous surveys have highlighted time and again.
And just as its predecessors that followed on the heels of their expensive counterparts, we are reasonably sure that the DTEK 50 will do decent numbers. Certainly better than the Priv did.
So well, you might ask, what is new?
Just this: the DTEK 50 is perhaps the first BlackBerry phone that is more Android than BlackBerry. Yes, we know that there will be some who will jump in at this point and point out that the Priv was an Android device too. In fact, it ran stock Android. Point taken. But then the Priv had perhaps the one feature that had distinguished BlackBerry devices from the smartphone herd – the QWERTY keyboard. And while there had been all touch BlackBerry devices in the past (going all the way back to the Storm with the wobbly onscreen keyboard in 2008), they were all distinguished by an operating system that was very distinct – good old BB OS. And of course, they had BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) that was for quite a while, the preserve, nay the badge of glory even, for the “BlackBerry Boys.”
The DTEK 50 has neither the keyboard, nor the OS. And BBM is now available for iOS and Android as well. Yes, fans will still point to that amazing onscreen keyboard, BlackBerry Hub and the security features, but know something? Pretty much every Android phone out there has its own swipe-to-right-from-homescreen speciality, from Google Now to Blinkfeed, and most have their own keyboards and yes, their own security apps too. No, they might not be as good as the ones on the DTEK 50, but they are there. And well, even the design of the phone ain’t that unique – it bears more than a passing semblance to the Alcatel Idol 4, as many pointed out, and as the company itself did not deny.
And it is this that makes the DTEK 50 the first BlackBerry phone that is well, more Android than BlackBerry.
Yes, we know that there is an outside chance that the DTEK 50 might become a massive hit and spark The Great BlackBerry Revival that so many people are rooting for (shades of Nokia and Palm). But even if that happens, it will be tinged in irony. For, the winner would not be BlackBerry, but Android.
For, like it or not, for all its claimed software innovation, that is what the DTEK 50 is.
Just another Android phone.