BlackBerry brings back the keyboard with Classic phone, partners with AT&T, Verizon

NEW YORK--BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) formally unveiled its new Classic smartphone, an upgrade to its iconic Bold smartphone with a physical Qwerty keyboard and trackpad. The company also is partnering with AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) to release the Classic. The operator support for the Classic is stronger than it was for BlackBerry's square-shaped Passport phone, which only launched with AT&T in the U.S.

Verizon and AT&T will both launch the Classic after Christmas but neither operator revealed the specific date or the price of the device. North American customers can purchase the BlackBerry Classic online today through and for $449 without a contract in the U.S. and $499 in Canada. The company is starting to ship pre-orders today and expects to ship all pre-orders by next week.

BlackBerry is positioning the Classic as a phone for customers who care deeply about productivity and is hoping to get users who have held onto their Bold 9900 phones and other similar devices to switch over to the BlackBerry 10 platform. The company is also hoping the Classic's keyboard and trackpad will lure back customers who may have switched from BlackBerry to other platforms.

blackBerry classic
BlackBerry Classic

 "Everything you know about BlackBerry has been upgraded," Blackberry CEO John Chen said at a media event here. Chen added the conversation around the company has changed, with no one wondering anymore if the company is going to survive financially. "I can tell you we are here to stay as a company," he said.

Chen said at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in early January the company is going to talk about its forthcoming Internet of Things platform. At Mobile World Congress in early March, Chen said the company will describe its device roadmap for the following 12 months.  

According to BlackBerry,  the Classic has a browser that is three times faster, has 60 percent more screen space and 50 percent longer battery life than the BlackBerry Bold.  In addition, it offers more apps from both BlackBerry World and the Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) Appstore.

The Classic runs on BlackBerry's latest version of BlackBerry 10 software and sports a 3.5-inch HD touchscreen display with Gorilla Glass 3, a 1.5 GHz Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM)  Snapdragon processor, 2 GB of RAM, 16 GB of device storage (expandable to up to 128 GB via uSD), an 8-megapixel rear camera and 2-megapixel front-facing camera and a claimed 22 hours of continuous battery life.

The phone features the BlackBerry Assistant, the company's first digital assistant that can be used with voice and text commands to help users manage work and personal email, contacts, calendar and other native BlackBerry 10 applications. The Classic, like other BB10 phones, also sports the BlackBerry Hub, which is one pooled inbox for all email, texts, BlackBerry Messenger messages, phone calls, social media posts.

BlackBerry is highlighting the Classic's security features and services. The company is launching what it calls the "Secure Productivity" bundle, which is designed for enterprise and government users using BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 or BES12. The bundle includes VPN Authentication,  which lets employees to use Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone or BlackBerry smartphone for two-factor authentication.

Additionally, the bundle includes BBM Protected, for encrypted BBBM chats that can sent between iOS, Android, and BlackBerry smartphones. The bundle also has BlackBerry Blend for Enterprise, which allows users on other smartphones and tablets to access instant message notifications, read and respond to work and personal email, BBM messages and text messages and access documents, calendar, contacts and media. The bundle includes Advantage Level Support with 24-7 phone support. The Secure Productivity bundle is available for enterprise customers with BES and BlackBerry 10 smartphones for $6 per user per month.

The company also is launching the Enterprise Communicator bundle, which is designed for  iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices not using BES. The bundle includes BBM Protected, Advantage Level Support and BBM Meetings, which enables voice and video conferences for groups of up to 25 people on iOS, Android, or BlackBerry 10 smartphones, and also on Windows PC or Mac.  The Enterprise Communicator bundle is available to customers with iOS, Android and BlackBerry smartphones for $12 per user per month.

BlackBerry is hoping to win over businesses to BES12 and has launched what it calls its "EZ Pass" program, which lets customers trade in their licenses and move from BES and other mobile device management platforms to the new platform. BlackBerry also supports rival platforms. In addition to Android and iOS devices, BlackBerry said BES12 will support Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone.

BlackBerry will need all the help it can get to win back market share. According to research firm Gartner, BlackBerry capture just 0.8 percent of the global smartphone market in the third quarter, down from 1.8 percent in the year-ago period.

For more:
- see this BlackBerry Classic release
- see this AT&T release
- see this BlackBerry enterprise release
- see this BlackBerry enterprise apps release

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