Barcelona: The launch of the new TCL-licensed BlackBerry smartphone — KEYone — has a chance of success, because few companies now offer BlackBerry-style design and features, and the productivity-focused smartphone segment is underserved, said an industry expert.

TCL launched the device at MWC and it has a physical keyboard with raised keys. A neat twist is that it also acts as a touchpad, and each letter can be used as a shortcut, with a short or long keypress. There are 52 shortcuts in all such as “F” for Facebook, “U” for Uber or “I” for Instagram.

KEYone features SnapDragon 625 processor and a 5.4-inch full HD display (1440 x 2560 pixels). It houses 12MP autofocus rear camera and 8MP front camera. It is priced at $549 (Dh2,015).

Ian Fogg, head of mobile analysis, IHS Markit, said that TCL must be careful not to price itself out of its target segment.

He said that Microsoft’s failure to establish Windows 10 Mobile as the enterprise smartphone OS provides a second chance for BlackBerry to re-establish its mobile market presence. Samsung Knox is widely known, but has had recent security failings, and Knox is often lost in the marketing noise as one part of Samsung’s vast portfolio of phones and software features.

And, even if BlackBerry’s smartphone share remains so low it is hard to quantify, he said the vast scale of the smartphone market — over 1.5 billion units will ship in 2017 — means even a tiny share would represent significant unit volumes and revenues compared with almost any other device market.

“The BlackBerry brand means different things to different countries and segments, it is not as simple a brand to operate as it may appear at first glance. For a new brand licensee, TCL, it must decide where to focus its BlackBerry-brand portfolio because the brand must be at the heart of how the range differentiates,” he said.

Sales volumes

At its peak, BlackBerry shipped 53 million smartphones in 2011 but shipments dropped rapidly to 3.90 million just four years later in 2015 because of the delayed disruption impact of Apple’s iPhone and especially of Google’s Android OS.

“Selling significant volumes of smartphones will be a challenge for TCL, because while BlackBerry has had a continuous presence in the mobile market — unlike other licensed smartphone brands such as Nokia — much of BlackBerry’s sales unit volumes in recent years have addressed other audiences,” he said.

IHS Markit recommends that TCL should focus initially is on the productivity-focused business and prosumer audiences, which were the BlackBerry’s earliest adopters in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and not other traditionally BlackBerry owners because, “TCL needs to execute effectively on its brand and operational advantages if it is to turnaround the fortunes of BlackBerry as a hardware brand. What it must avoid, is simply pursuing the same strategy of recent years, because that will see BlackBerry continue to decline,” he said.