Speedrunning the “BlackBerry Smartphone” category —
A phone was supposed to arrive in 2021 and never did.
BlackBerry phones will remain dead.
In 2020, we reported on OnwardMobility, a startup that licensed the BlackBerry brand for smartphones and planned to release a new QWERTY Android phone. There was a lot to worry about when the company missed its promised 2021 deadline, and just last month, it had to make a blog post titled “Contrary to popular belief, we are not dead.”
Well, the company’s plans are now dead. Both Daniel Bader of Android Police and Kevin Michaluk (the founder of Crackberry) are independently reporting that OnwardMobility has lost its Blackberry license. Bader says, “According to sources, BlackBerry is looking to further distance itself from its days as a smartphone vendor after selling the remainder of its mobile patent portfolio for $600 million earlier this month.”
At the end of January, BlackBerry sold its mobile and messaging patents to a new company called “Catapult IP Innovations,” which has no products and took on a ton of debt to buy the patents. If Catapult’s plan is to monetize BlackBerry’s patents by suing potential infringers, it’s understandable that BlackBerry would want to distance itself from the years-long courtroom battles that will soon begin.
BlackBerry got out of the smartphone market in 2016 after it bet the farm on the Android-powered BlackBerry Priv and lost. Smartphone brands never really die, though; they are just licensed out to other companies and become zombie brands. The Chinese firm TCL licensed its name from 2016 to 2020, and after that contract expired, OnwardMobility was supposed to be next.
OnwardMobility seemed like a company that could deliver on its promises, mostly thanks to a partnership with Foxconn’s FIH Mobile, a turnkey smartphone operation. OnwardMobility said the phone was “coming in 2021,” and its website continued to make that claim several days into 2022. The company finally added a blog post to the site on January 7 saying the device wasn’t dead. While the site still contains several BlackBerry logos and trademark notices, the latest blog post only says the plan is to make an “ultra-secure 5G enterprise smartphone (still with a keyboard!).”
OnwardMobility hasn’t confirmed the loss of the BlackBerry license, but its latest blog post does seem to go out of its way to not mention BlackBerry. We would ask OnwardMobility for comment, but the company doesn’t have any public email addresses. So far, nothing has gone to plan for OnwardMobility, and it would not be surprising to see the company quietly die. Really, the most authentically “BlackBerry” thing OnwardMobility could do is quit the smartphone market.