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Never say die: Another BlackBerry smartphone is on the way

BlackBerry smartphones aren’t a thing of the past just yet.

The company plans to release at least one more smartphone, which will feature its trademark physical keyboard, CEO John Chen said in an interview with Bloomberg TV last week. This announcement comes as a surprise, given that BlackBerry said in September it will outsource all manufacturing of its devices to partners.

“It’s a tough call to get out of the business entirely, because there is still an opportunity to sell to the loyal customers,” said Eric Klein, director of mobile software at VDC Research Group in Natick, Mass. “I don’t think they’re going to have a blowout hit on their hands, but it will cater to that niche market that still wants their devices.”

BlackBerry has provided no additional details about the upcoming phone or its release date, but the physical keyboard could be a welcome sight for longtime users.

BlackBerry abandoned its homemade BlackBerry 10 operating system a year ago in favor of Android when it launched the Priv. After the company said it would back out of the hardware business, the belief was that the DTEK60 Android phone, released in July, would be its last smartphone. The idea behind the move to Android was to incorporate BlackBerry’s mobile security technology into the OS, making highly secure Android devices, and to grant BlackBerry devices access to the large Android app ecosystem.

Exiting the hardware business doesn’t leave BlackBerry in dire straits, however, because the company has transformed itself into a software provider in recent years. The company bought competing enterprise mobility management (EMM) provider Good Technology in November 2015, bringing its EMM market share at the time to about 21% — second behind only VMware AirWatch, according to VDC.

“The Good deal certainly gave BlackBerry a shot in the arm in the EMM space,” Klein said.

Additionally, BlackBerry inked a deal with Ford Motors this month to expand its use of QNX security software for connected cars. The software provides drivers with a secure operating system in their dashboards that connects to their mobile devices for navigation, calls, notifications and entertainment.

“That’s a direction they’ll drive ahead with,” Klein said. “That’ll be much larger than EMM, and they’ll keep evolving and progressing.”