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BlackBerry phones could disappear as TCL partnership ends

The Verge logo The Verge 2/3/2020 Jacob Kastrenakes
a hand holding a cellphone © Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The brand keeping BlackBerry phones alive across most of the globe, TCL Communications, plans to stop selling BlackBerry phones later this year. In a tweet this morning, TCL announced that it “will no longer be selling” BlackBerry-branded phones as of August 31st, 2020, because it will no longer have the rights to design and manufacture them. Existing devices will continue to be supported.

BlackBerry decided in 2016 to stop making its own phones, after years of failures, and to license its brand out instead. The biggest licensing deal was with TCL, which since December 2016 has had the near-global rights to design and sell BlackBerry-branded phones. It’s done a decent job of it, pairing classically BlackBerry-style designs with the functions of modern Android phones. None of the devices have been blockbuster hits, though, and recent devices have received poor reviews.

Without TCL making new phones, it’s possible the BlackBerry brand will disappear for a moment. BlackBerry does have other phone manufacturing partners, but their relationships are much more limited. BB Merah Putih launched a single phone in Indonesia in 2017, and Optiemus Infracom made some phones for India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh. TCL had the rights for all other regions.

We’ve reached out to BlackBerry for comment. There’s no word yet on whether BlackBerry will look for another manufacturing partner or begin to make its own phones again.

The bigger move here may be from TCL. The company has slowly built out its name over the past several years making phones under several different brand names, including BlackBerry, Alcatel, and Palm. This year, the company intends to start selling phones under its own name. Leaving BlackBerry behind may just give the company more time to focus on devices of its own.

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