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BlackBerry Says Keyboards Are the Future

BlackBerry's interim chief says the little keys are important to the kind of business customers the company is targeting.


The rest of the mobile industry may have moved on, but BlackBerry CEO John Chen is betting the future of the company’s device business on smartphones with keyboards.

“You are going to see us center more and more on the ‘qwerty’ keyboard,” Chen said in an interview with Re/code on Wednesday.

The reason has a lot to do with where Chen wants to take the company, which is back to its roots. Chen says the main market for BlackBerry, at least in places like the U.S., is as a tool for businesses, particularly those in heavily regulated markets such as the financial industry. BlackBerry isn’t going to win by competing for the latest games and apps, but instead needs to focus on being the best at getting work done.

It also helps explain why BlackBerry sued Typo, the Ryan Seacrest-backed startup that makes an add-on keyboard for the iPhone.

And while Chen says BlackBerry is sticking with the device business (albeit with Foxconn as a manufacturing partner), he said the company needs to first shore up its core product for businesses — the server software used to manage mobile devices.

“The server will lead the device sale,” Chen said. Some 30,000 of its 80,000 business customers are on the latest version of BlackBerry’s software, which can also oversee iPhones and Android devices.

However, lots of those are trial customers, and one of Chen’s first tasks will be converting those to paying customers.

Here’s a spot I did on CNBC, talking about BlackBerry’s strategy.

Check back later this week for more from our interview. Chen is also one of several big-name speakers lined up for our inaugural Code Conference, which takes place May 27-29 in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

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