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BlackBerry confirms it will can its Classic smartphone

TechCrunch TechCrunch 5/07/2016 Ingrid Lunden

Goodbye to more tactile keys, and hello to planes of cool and smooth glass. Today, BlackBerry confirmed that it will stop making the Classic, one of the company’s last smartphone models based around a physical keyboard for inputting text, as the company prepares for a new series of phone designs based on Android and BlackBerry 10 platforms, and more attempts to compete in an increasingly lopsided smartphone market.

BlackBerry’s COO and GM for devices, Ralph Pini, confirmed the decision in a blog post published a little earlier, which itself appeared to be a belated response to news that leaked out by way of a U.S. Senate memo published by Politico before the long Independence Day weekend.

“Sometimes it can be very tough to let go,” he wrote. “As part of this, and after many successful years in the market, we will no longer manufacture BlackBerry Classic.”

To be clear, BlackBerry is not backing out of making any devices with physical keyboards. The Politico memo mentioned that a full range of BlackBerry OS 10 devices (“Q10, Z10, Z30, Passport, and Classic”) was getting discontinued, which would have covered yet more QWERTY models. But Pini writes that only the Classic would be going, and BlackBerry has confirmed the same directly to us.

“We continue to actively support sales of our BlackBerry 10 smartphones to customers in most markets. And for customers choosing our Android device as their next smartphone, there will be a seamless transition without any compromise to the security of their mobile platform or operations,” the company noted in a statement. “We believe that being truly cross platform – which includes support for BB10, Android, iOS and Windows Phone – will allow us to best serve our customers across the world.” While phone companies will stop selling these devices, BlackBerry notes you can still buy them unlocked while supplies last.

As part of this, the company said it will be releasing 10.3.3 next month, with another update next year.

In the meantime, pour one out for the model that arguably started it all, and may have even given the company its original fruity brand. (Hold it with your arm stretched out, and one of the original black Blackberry phones kind of does resemble one of the sweet berries that grows in the brambles in the forest.)

BlackBerry continues to have huge challenges ahead of it in the smartphone industry, and you could easily argue that the Classic was more important as an icon than as an actual business.

Once the early mover and market leader among all smartphones, BlackBerry accounted for only 0.2% of all worldwide sales in Q1 2016, according to Gartner. Android phones represented over 84% of all purchased devices.

The thinking seems to be that by pushing BlackBerry deeper into the realm of Android, it may pick up more users in a market that isn’t particularly strong on one brand: underscoring the fragmentation in Android, market leader Samsung only accounts for 23.2% of sales. iOS and Apple are close by at 14.8%.

In that regard, it’s particularly ironic that the Classic — which itself was a relaunched (in 2014) version of the company’s original design — is being discontinued: it was one of the few remaining phone models that you could distinctly make out in a sea of me-too, anonymous Android styles or iPhone lookalikes.

Next up, you have to wonder about the longer term fate of BlackBerry’s platform. The company has seen some major setbacks, with companies like Facebook pulling away from supporting the platform, which it lumped together with Symbian and older versions of Android in the “unfriend” pile. As the slow growth of Windows Phone demonstrated, popular app availability was one (but not the only) factor that kept consumers from buying those devices.

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