BlackBerry Goes After Strongest User Base With New 9720

The BlackBerry 9720 is "super social," intended for first-time smartphone users and headed for developing markets, aka BlackBerry's sweet spot.

BlackBerry, with analysts already offering up elegies for its fading brand, introduced a "super social" new smartphone Aug. 13, with zero fanfare.

The BlackBerry 9720 is a QWERTY smartphone running an updated version of the BlackBerry 7 OS. It's intended for developing markets and mobile phone users updating from feature phones or low-end Android devices. While pricing, which will be modest, is key to the 9720, so is its social nature.

The 9720 features a dedicated BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) key, for fast messaging; BBM Voice, which lets users place free calls over WiFi; BBM Channels, which lets users interact with groups and brands; and a Multicast feature that lets a user type a message once and simultaneously cast it to BBM, Twitter and Facebook. Photos, too, can be cast to multiple social networks at once.

The "re-engineered, elegantly designed" QWERTY keypad is combined with a trackpad and 2.8-inch touch-screen, as well as well as an FM radio.

The 9720 has access to BlackBerry World, for games apps, but the classic business-minded brand can of course also connect to a Blackberry Enterprise Server or Enterprise Server Express.

It "offers superior business productivity features with market-leading mobile device management, application management and security, and is a very cost-effective solution for any organization," BlackBerry said in a statement.

The company plans to release the BlackBerry 9720 in the "coming weeks," to carriers and retailers in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America—regions where the BlackBerry brand still has a considerable hold. Yet it's a hold that Android-running devices, Nokia and even Apple, which is expected to introduce a $100 iPhone this fall, all want to loosen.

BlackBerry announced Aug. 12 that it has formed a special committee that will focus on "strategic alternatives," a phrase that many took as a euphemism for finally holding up the for-sale sign.

In its statement, BlackBerry said that it's open to, among other things, "joint ventures, strategic partnerships or alliances, a sale of the company or other possible transactions."

Going private, a strategy that insiders say could give the company a chance to rework itself, without the pressure of the world's glare, "won't necessarily help them to do a turnaround," Bill Menezes, principal research analyst at Gartner, told eWEEK Aug. 12.

"The question is how do they leverage their success? They still have a pretty good position in a lot of developing markets ... but how does that play out, as Samsung and Apple and others go after those markets?" Menezes asked.

In May, at its BlackBerry Live event, the company introduced the Q5, another QWERTY-equipped, BBM-focused device meant to round-out the BlackBerry portfolio.

But while the Apple is expected to benefit from taking a rare break from envelope-pushing to focus on the low-end, in North America, users want to see BlackBerry swing for the fences.

The fact that its last two phones are focused on the low-end market, suggests it knows where it has the better chance of succeeding.

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