TCL won’t make BlackBerry phones anymore, sending the brand back into limbo

TCL Communication has announced it will no longer be making BlackBerry smartphones, after taking over the dormant brand at the end of 2016, and bringing it back to life with a series of ever-improving devices. In a statement tweeted out by the official BlackBerry Mobile account, TCL Communication does not have the rights to design, manufacture, or sell BlackBerry phones any longer.

This means the BlackBerry Key 2 LE will be the last BlackBerry-branded phone produced by TCL Communication to be released, and it follows the BlackBerry Key 2, and the BlackBerry KeyOne. TCL Communication’s BlackBerry phones took the features fans of the brand loved — the physical keyboard, long battery life, and extra levels of security — and put them inside modern hardware with Google Android software. While not for everyone, they were successful with those either familiar with the brand, or those looking for something a little different.

What does this mean for BlackBerry?

The future of BlackBerry phones is once again unknown. While TCL Communication will not make another BlackBerry phone, it does not necessarily mean we will never see another BlackBerry phone. It’s possible the global license could be snapped up by another company eager to capitalize on the brand’s highly recognizable name. HMD Global, for example, has seen considerable success with the Nokia name since acquiring the license, while British phone maker Bullitt owns the license to make phones from brands including Cat, JCB, and Land Rover.

TCL Communication’s license didn’t apply everywhere either. In India and several other Asian markets, a company named Optiemus owns the manufacturing license, and has produced two BlackBerry-branded phones named the Evolve and Evolve X. Neither have a physical keyboard, and instead have a full touchscreen, but they do use BlackBerry’s DTEK suite of apps and security services.

BlackBerry Ltd still continues to exist as a software company, under CEO John Chen, who took over the company in 2013, canceled smartphone projects, sold the global BlackBerry phone license to TCL Communication, and focused on its mobile security software suite and its QNX automotive software, amongst other projects.

What does this mean for your BlackBerry phone?

In its statement, TCL Communication promises to support all existing BlackBerry phones with customer service and warranty until August 31, 2022. Whether this will include any software updates is a different matter, but it would be best to assume few outside of the Google Play Store will reach your phone after this point.

Why has TCL Communication stopped making BlackBerry phones?

The license agreement was described only as “long term” when it was announced in 2016, and may have simply reached the end of its lifetime, or if sales were not high enough for TCL to continue. However, it may also have to do with TCL’s own plans for world domination in smartphones. It has learned a lot from making and selling BlackBerry phones internationally, including striking up important relationships with carriers. It will leverage all this to sell its new TCL 10 smartphones around the world over the coming year.

This is what’s coming next for TCL Communication, but what will come next for BlackBerry phones is unknown, and perhaps casts doubt on TCL’s commitment to its other licensed brands, Palm and Alcatel, too.

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