BlackBerry faithful were dealt a harsh blow earlier this year when TCL, the biggest company to build phones for the brand, said it would stop. That left enthusiasts clinging to their KEY2s, wondering about would-be replacements, and raising glasses to the good old days — at least until an upstart Texas outfit announced plans to pick up where TCL left off.
OnwardMobility was incorporated in Austin as Onward88 in late 2018 by CEO Peter Franklin, and the startup has spent the years since piecing together an executive team and a strategy for making BlackBerry phones relevant in a 5G age.
The announcement of its licensing deal with BlackBerry and Foxconn subsidiary FIH Mobile this week was very much the company’s coming-out party, but it also raised a handful of big questions: Who are these people? Is this a B2B play? What’s the new BlackBerry going to cost? And perhaps biggest of all, is this going to be the BlackBerry that fans have longed for?
In a conversation with Engadget, Franklin was eager to address some of these questions. And even when he declined to provide specifics, he laid out an ambitious — and in some ways surprising — vision for the BlackBerry of the near future.
The original plan, according to Franklin, was to build the “the most secure phone out there.” That’s the sort of angle that opens doors, but doesn’t usually translate to mass-market success.
Over time, however, the team’s priorities came to include productivity, as evidenced by the number of times the word plastered on the OnwardMobility website. For now, the specifics are still shrouded in secrecy; Franklin wouldn’t elaborate on the new BlackBerry’s features apart from noting that the phone will pack “tons of unique experiences” and “security propositions.” Still, that newfound focus on getting things done helped widen the project’s scope considerably.
While Onward Mobility is eager to push new hardware at business and government customers, Franklin has committed to building this new phone with normal consumers in mind. “The only way to be successful with government and enterprise is if consumers want to use it too,” he said. “If your company makes you use this phone and you don’t like it, that’s not where we want to be.”