China’s TCL launches first BlackBerry phone, in Kitchener
KITCHENER — About a dozen people are now working in the Tannery building in downtown Kitchener for the Chinese electronics giant that makes BlackBerry-branded smartphones.
The team at BlackBerry Mobile, which is owned by TCL Communication, unveiled its first smartphone Thursday. The phone, dubbed the KeyOne, is a large-screen device that uses the latest Android operating system, Nougat, and features a QWERTY keyboard.
“It is not just a business device,” said Bruce Walpole, general manager of BlackBerry Mobile North America.
“People are busy in their personal lives too, so we needed a device that could easily move from your personal life to your business life, and back and forth, daily, minute-by-minute,” said Walpole.
KeyOne will be in stores May 31. But on Thursday, it was announced that Rogers Communications is taking preorders for $199 on a two-year contract.
Last December, BlackBerry signed a licensing agreement with TCL Communication, a Chinese electronics manufacturer headquartered in Huizhou, in the province of Guangdong. After that multi-year agreement was signed, TCL established BlackBerry Mobile to market and sell the devices.
During the past few months, Walpole and 11 other people who used to work for BlackBerry in Waterloo moved to space in the Tannery building to work for BlackBerry Mobile. They work in sales, marketing and engineering.
“We are excited,” said Walpole.
Under the licensing agreement, TCL makes the phones while BlackBerry Ltd. in Waterloo provides the operating system and security software. TCL puts the BlackBerry operating system and software inside its hardware when making the phones.
The KeyOne looks and feels like a BlackBerry.
“When a person purchases a device from any of our Canadian carriers, they will not see TCL, they will see a BlackBerry, just like they are used to seeing BlackBerry — all of the documentation, all of the branding on the device, anything that’s on the box, it will all be BlackBerry,” said Walpole.
The arrangement with TCL is part of the BlackBerry chief executive officer John Chen’s strategy to turnaround the company that invented the smartphone. BlackBerry has rebranded itself as a provider of secure communications software and platforms for data, voice and documents across multiple platforms.
KeyOne is the first of several devices that will be manufactured by TCL Communication and marketed by BlackBerry Mobile.
“We have a whole portfolio of devices coming,” said Walpole. “This is not a one-and-done deal. The licence agreement is a multi-year, long-term agreement.”
BlackBerry Mobile will sell the smartphone around the world. The licensing agreement covers the globe, except for five countries — India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
“We have a portfolio of devices designed out to the end of 2018,” said Walpole. “So we are very excited about what the future holds, and this is just the first device in a portfolio of devices.”
His excitement is shared by Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky and Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, who came out for the launch and were given KeyOne smartphones. Police Chief Bryan Larkin, Waterloo Fire Chief Richard Hepditch and Kitchener Deputy Fire Chief Rob Martin also received phones.
“I am so happy to see that the BlackBerry DNA continues on with this new company,” said Jaworsky. “We in Waterloo Region really love the BlackBerry with the keyboard and we have a strong affinity for it because it’s homegrown technology.”
Vrbanovic said he is “certainly very impressed” with the new phone.
“I have been following along during the last number of months as rumours of its release have been shared on CrackBerry and other sites. Everything I read about it, everything I see about it, it is incredibly exciting to see this.”