By Euan Rocha
TORONTO (StartName) – Even as BlackBerry pivots to focus more on software and services, the company that gained fame for its smartphones is not giving up on its handset business, two senior executives said.
After recording a gross profit from its weakened handset operation and with roughly 50 million people globally still using its older-generation BlackBerry phones, there is potential in that business, the executives said.
Their remarks came during a frenetic week when BlackBerry reported a much smaller-than-expected loss and launched its square-screened Passport device.
Ron Louks, who heads BlackBerry’s devices arm, said now that the company had pared losses, it could afford to take some risks and look at introducing at least one unconventional device each year.
“When it comes to design and being a little bit disruptive, we want that ‘wow’ factor,” Louks said. “Not all of the products will have it, but we definitely have opportunities.”
BlackBerry already has another unconventional device in the works, he said, adding that it has already received some positive feedback from carriers on it.
Passport reviews have been mixed. While the device has won praise for its battery life, wide screen and touch-sensitive keyboard, it has been criticized for, among other things, being difficult to operate with one hand.
Louks hinted that BlackBerry was working on a prototype that would be easier to use with a single hand.
“From a roadmap perspective, I’m pretty happy with where we are at for next year,” he said in an interview, adding that he also expected demand for the Passport to exceed expectations.
BlackBerry said on Friday that it had already taken about 200,000 orders for the Passport, which went on sale Wednesday and sold out on Amazon.com Inc within six hours.
Speaking with the media after BlackBerry reported quarterly results on Friday, Chief Executive Officer John Chen said the company was likely to show new devices at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2015.
“Given the receptivity for the Passport, I know that we’ll have at least another generation of that device,” said Chen. “I also carry very high hopes for the Classic, and I’ve spoken with a lot of people that want it … so I think we will have another iteration on that, and there will be a new concept device too.”
The BlackBerry Classic, which bears similarities to the company’s once wildly popular Bold smartphone, will be available later this year.
BlackBerry’s volatile stock was up 0.2 percent at $10.28 in late-morning Nasdaq trading.
JPMorgan, UBS, BMO and other brokerages raised their share-price targets for BlackBerry on Monday.
(Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Lisa Von Ahn)