BlackBerry CEO details plan for two mid-range Android smartphones in 2016

After a rocky start with its Android era, BlackBerry plans to attack the market with two new mid-range smartphones.
Written by Jake Smith, Contributor
CNET/CBS Interactive

BlackBerry plans to move away from the high-end smartphone business and target the middle of the market as it looks to boost smartphone sales.

John Chen, CEO of BlackBerry, told Middle East-based publication The National that BlackBerry will "launch two mid-range Android handsets this year, one with a physical keyboard and one with a full touchscreen."

Chen didn't confirm when the new smartphones will go on sale, but highlight BlackBerry's move to become an Android OEM, building on top of Android with its own enterprise-focused software rather than focusing on a sole BlackBerry OS.

BlackBerry launched the high-end BlackBerry Priv at the end of 2015, costing $700 for the first BlackBerry device to run full Android, rather than just Android apps.

Chen said in his interview over the week the Priv "was too high-end a product" and that a lot of "enterprise customers have said to us, 'I want to buy your phone but $700 is a little too steep for me. I'm more interested in a $400 device'."

News of new BlackBerry devices come after a disappointing earnings report from BlackBerry in early April. The company reported 600,000 handsets during the first quarter of 2016, below an analyst consensus of 850,000. It's not clear how many of those devices were the high-end Priv, rather than lower-priced handsets in developing markets.

"Since I started at the company [in November 2013] I've been saying I'll make the handset business profitable. If I can't make it profitable because the market won't let me, then I'll get out of the handset business. I love our handset business, but we need to make money," Chen told The National.

A focus on the mid-range isn't unique to BlackBerry. Market leader Apple has shown a recommitment to the cheaper market with the launch of its iPhone SE in March.

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