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BlackBerry returns with 3 possible new phones in 2017

CNET logo CNET 01-03-2017 Roger Cheng
Andrew Hoyle/CNET: <p style="margin-bottom:1em;padding:0px 0.2em;font-size:13px;">TCL could have multiple BlackBerrys in the market by the end of the year. <em>Andrew Hoyle/CNET</em></p>© Provided by CNET

TCL could have multiple BlackBerrys in the market by the end of the year. Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The BlackBerry KeyOne may soon see some siblings. 

TCL isn't wasting time building up its portfolio of phones using the BlackBerry name. The company plans to release as many as three phones this year, TCL Communications Nicolas Zibell said in an interview on Saturday.

The company is working on an all-touchscreen version, a spiritual successor to the DTEK 50 and DTEK 60 phones, which TCL also built for BlackBerry, according to a source familiar with the rollout plans. TCL will likely get rid of the DTEK branding, the source said.

The commitment is proof that TCL is taking its mission to revive the BlackBerry phone brand seriously. The Chinese company is looking to breathe new life into the BlackBerry name, and introduced its first attempt, the KeyOne, at a press conference on Saturday ahead of Mobile World Congress trade show. It's just one of several companies hoping to revive a once-beloved name in the wireless industry, with both Nokia and Motorola hoping to make a splash at the conference under new owners.

It's a new world for TCL, best known for making budget televisions, as well as phones through its Alcatel line.

A few issues with BlackBerry under its original incarnation were the slow rollout of devices and inability to respond to the market. The company drew criticism for the high price of its first Android-powered phone, the Priv, when it hit the market in 2015. It wasn't until 2016 before it launched the more affordable DTEK 50.

TCL hopes that a full portfolio of BlackBerry devices will serve as proof of its support for the brand, something it believes carriers didn't previously see.  

Hope for Palm?

TCL is hoping to become a holding company of sorts for various phone brands. In addition to Alcatel and BlackBerry, the company has said it plans on launching a TCL-branded phone. 

But what about Palm? TCL bought the Palm name in January 2015, but has sat on that asset.

It appears that reviving old brands is becoming a hot trend in the industry. TCL is trying to make BlackBerry work again, while startup HMD Global is making Nokia phones.

To be clear, TCL only bought the rights to use the Palm name. The WebOS platform that powered the last run of Palm phones went to LG, which has used the platform in its televisions and one of its smart watches.

For a while, it seemed like the Palm name would be shelved indefinitely. The company has been radio silent since the acquisition. But Zibell hinted that the company may have plans for the once-beloved brand.

"We don't do things by mistake," Zibell said. "Stay tuned."

Just don't hold your breath for something to happen soon. Zibell said this year TCL would be focused on reviving BlackBerry. 

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