BlackBerry launching new smartphone with emphasis on beefed up security

Less than a year after launching the Priv, BlackBerry is launching a new smartphone, dubbed the DTEK50, which has beefed up security measures designed to fend off cyberattacks.
BlackBerry CEO John Chen has so far shown no inclination to get out of the hardware business, despite calls for the company to focus on its software. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

In a bid to once again make its struggling hardware business profitable, BlackBerry is launching a new smartphone billed as the most secure Android device available.

The company says the DTEK50 target audience is "everyone" due to the increasing threat that mobile security risks now pose to the public at large.

"We feel that customers today, certainly businesses and consumers, are beginning to understand just how important security is when it comes to their smartphone," said Alex Thurber, senior vice-president of global device sales, during a Tuesday webcast launch from the company's Waterloo, Ont., headquarters.

Everyone should be aware of security and privacy, he noted, whether they're the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a parent.

"I certainly want my children to have secure devices. I don't want the world looking at what they take pictures of or their emails or their text messages."

BlackBerry said the DTEK50 has been designed to fend off cyberattacks with features such as built-in malware protection and encryption of all user information. In addition, it provides the ability to see and control which apps are allowed access to features like the phone's camera.

The new product is also BlackBerry's thinnest and has an on-screen keyboard — not its traditional keyboard.

It appears the company has learned from the sales flop of its first Android-powered phone, the Priv. At a cost of $899, it was released late last year at the company's Canadian webstore without a carrier contract. At the time, it was the most expensive Android phone on the market.

While BlackBerry hasn't disclosed Priv phone sales, its most recent quarterly results released a month ago showed the company sold 500,000 smartphones in total (including the Priv). That's a drop of 100,000 over the previous quarter and 200,000 fewer than two quarters earlier.

Thurber said the DTEK50 is priced to be a very broadly-adopted product and will retail for $429.

The company says the new phone is currently available for pre-order online, with plans to start shipping Aug. 8.

"We're very confident that from a product perspective this will sell very well," Thurber said.

BlackBerry has faced calls to stop making smartphones because of disappointing sales and instead focus solely on its growing software and security business.

Another Android phone planned

CEO John Chen has so far shown no inclination to get out of the hardware business, having promised earlier this year to release two mid-range, Android-powered phones before the company's fiscal year ends Feb. 28, 2017.

Thurber reiterated that commitment, saying BlackBerry will continue to develop and release Android phones, including one in the near future that will have a physical keyboard.

"Yes, one of them will be the iconic physical-keyboard-based device," he said. "So stay tuned, that will be coming shortly."

The company says it remains committed to supporting its BlackBerry 10 operating system with software updates.