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CEO Chen Has High Hopes for BlackBerry Classic Phone

Time will tell if BlackBerry is reading the market correctly and it can regain customers, or if this strategy and new product will fail to gain momentum.

BlackBerry Classic

BlackBerry CEO John Chen wants to get it right this time when it comes to enterprise users. In an open letter to current and former BlackBerry users, Chen laid out his case that his company's upcoming phone—the BlackBerry Classic, formerly known as the BlackBerry Q20—will include the features users already loved about its products, while adding improvements and refinements that will make the Classic even better.

"BlackBerry is driven by an urgent, obsessive focus on what matters: you," Chen wrote in the Oct. 29 letter posted on the company's blog. "When we lose sight of what you want and you need, we lose you."

Maybe he's on to something here. Maybe that is why BlackBerry lost so many formerly loyal users in the past seven years as the company failed to change and give customers the mobile products competitors like Apple, Samsung and others were offering them.

BlackBerry's fall from dominating the enterprise smartphone market has been swift and stunning. BlackBerry spent much of 2012 and 2013 trying to shake off the image that it was finished, especially compared with its presence five years earlier when its devices were the "enterprise gold standard" for mobile business communications. In early 2006, half of all smartphones sold were BlackBerry models. By 2009, though, its share of the global smartphone market was down to 20 percent.

"It's tempting in a rapidly changing, rapidly growing mobile market to change for the sake of change—to mimic what's trendy and match the industry-standard, kitchen-sink approach of trying to be all things to all people," wrote Chen in his letter. "But there's also something to be said for the classic adage, if it ain't broke don't fix it."

With that, Chen goes on to tout the company's upcoming BlackBerry Classic enterprise handset, which he and the company hope will get users swarming back to take in all the enterprise-class features, security and familiarity they were accustomed to before they headed to the exits over the last seven years in search of smartphones that could do more and better help organize their work and personal lives.

The latest BlackBerry Classic reflects that familiarity and earlier usefulness, he wrote. "It is classic BlackBerry—complete with a top row of navigation keys and a trackpad. It's the device that has always felt right in your hands and always felt right in your busy day."

A lot is riding on this for the company as it works to again capture users, rather than shed them. So Chen is excited about the new old Classic. It all sounds good, but the question is, will it be enough, right on the heels of the recently unveiled BlackBerry Passport, which was so popular in September that it quickly sold out some 200,000 preorders. That was not a great result. The company didn't have more stock than 200,000 units to fill demand that could have been far greater? That's not a new and improved approach by BlackBerry, for sure.

In his open letter, Chen tells customers that the company is "committed to earning your business—or earning it back, if that's the case. In the weeks ahead, BlackBerry will be sharing more details about Classic that we think you'll like."

Time will tell if Chen is reading the market correctly and BlackBerry can again gain customers, or if this strategy and new product will fail to gain momentum.

In the meantime, rumors are swirling lately that the Classic will be released in mid-December, based on comments Chen reportedly made recently at an MIT Enterprise Forum in Hong Kong. The company would not comment when asked by eWEEK about the release date or pricing for the Classic.

It certainly will be interesting to see how all of this plays out. Stay tuned.