Though BlackBerry (BBRY) still faces quite a few challenges, the company has been fairly realistic about what the mobile landscape looks like during John Chen's time as CEO, which is much more than could be said about his predecessor, Thorsten Heins. A new VentureBeat report about BlackBerry's phone roadmap demonstrates this realism.
Not surprisingly, the phones reportedly in BlackBerry's pipeline -- a low-cost touch-only device codenamed Neon, a high-end touch-only device codenamed Argon and a QWERTY keyboard phone codenamed Mercury -- are all Android devices. With the BlackBerry 10 OS having a minuscule smartphone share and limited developer support, BlackBerry has already suggested all of its future phone launches could involve Google's OS.
Neon, reportedly due in July or August, has a 5.2" 1080p display and 13-megapixel rear camera, and is expected to be free on a subsidized basis. It could fare well in emerging markets where BlackBerry once did brisk business with consumers, such as Indonesia and South Africa.
Argon, by contrast, has a 5.5" 2K-resolution display and 21-megapixel rear camera, and runs on Qualcomm's (QCOM - Get Report) flagship Snapdragon 820 processor. It's due in October, and will be aimed at enterprises and "enthusiast consumers." Mercury, which seems to target what's left of BlackBerry's QWERTY enthusiast base, is due in the first quarter of 2017 and is said to have a 4.5" 1080p display with a "squarish 3:2 aspect ratio."
Neon's details suggest an understanding that BlackBerry priced itself out of much of the Android market with its first Android device -- the Priv -- which sold for an unsubsidized $699 when it launched last fall. Walmart currently sells the phone for an unsubsidized $605.
Meanwhile, making both Neon and Argon touch-only phones suggests BlackBerry has come to terms with the fact the vast majority of smartphone buyers -- whether or on the high-end or low-end -- don't care for physical keyboards anymore. This is especially true, given how much gesture typing, predictive text and other innovations have improved typing speeds for keyboard apps.
And though it has been overshadowed by the Priv's dismal performance, BlackBerry has done a good job of creating a layer of enterprise-friendly apps and services to differentiate its Android phones. Those apps and services, which include a security/privacy solution known as DTEK, a unified messaging hub, gesture controls and pop-up widgets, could help BlackBerry win enterprise deals once it has a more compelling high-end phone such as Argon on the market. Also potentially aiding Blackberry are its efforts to create solutions for verticals such as healthcare and government agencies.
No one should expect BlackBerry to once more be a top-5 smartphone vendor, never mind return to its glory days. But considering how low expectations are for its phone business -- only 500,000 phones were sold in the May quarter, and markets appear content to see BlackBerry exit smartphones altogether and focus solely on enterprise software and services -- it doesn't need to.
Selling 1 million to 2 million phones per quarter should be enough to create a profitable niche business, particularly if a chunk of those phone sales involve high-end hardware. Judging by BlackBerry's reported roadmap, this still appears to be within the company's reach.