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Could Google carry the BlackBerry torch?

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Let me just clear something up right off the bat here: No, you haven’t entered some weird sort of virtual time warp. And no, this isn’t a mislabeled column from the early 2000s.

This is a genuine, current statement: The era of the BlackBerry phone has ended. Yes, again.

In case you hadn’t heard (and it’d be an easy story to have missed — or to have assumed was errantly being resurfaced from the past), the company responsible for making BlackBerry phones has announced it is stepping away from the effort and will create no more devices with that iconic name attached.

Now, the story isn’t quite what it seems on the surface. The company in question isn’t actually BlackBerry itself. Nope — that company, the entity once known as Research in Motion, hasn’t been making hardware since 2016.

That same year, a company called TCL took over the act as part of a licensing deal in which it’d produce, sell, and support phones under the BlackBerry brand, with Android at the devices’ core and BlackBerry itself providing the supplementary software and services. (TCL had similar arrangements with Alcatel and Palm, too — so, yeah: It’s kind of like the mobile-tech equivalent of a really convincing 90s cover band, only with far less flannel.) This week, TCL said that arrangement had expired.

Let’s be honest, though: BlackBerry, as a phone brand, had basically been on life support for a while. The Android-based BlackBerry phones of recent years were never especially exceptional, and for all the lingering fond feelings toward the name, it didn’t seem like many people were actually buying the devices. And that’s to say nothing of the brand’s dismal performance with delivering Android operating system updates — a harsh reality that was firmly at odds with its security-centric message (and is only likely to get worse for any remaining phone-owners now that the TCL partnership is kaput).

Still, if we think back a ways, there was a time when BlackBerry was synonymous with security-first, business-friendly smartphones — devices designed not for Snapchatting or WhatsApping but rather for serious professionals who wanted to get work done, use the best productivity services available, and know that their technology would always be maximally secure.

And that, when you really stop and think about it, is a role no other company has yet managed to fill.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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