BlackBerry, which struggled to entice customers with touch-screen models last year, plans to return its focus to keyboard-equipped phones under chief executive John Chen.
"I personally love the keyboards," Chen said on Monday at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In the future, the company's phones would "predominantly" have physical keyboards, he said, rather than touch screens.
Chen, who became chief executive in November, is trying to rebuild the company after last year's BlackBerry 10 line-up fizzled with consumers - contributing to billions of dollars of write-downs. As part of his comeback plan, BlackBerry is refocusing on the corporate and government customers that fuelled its early success. Those users preferred real keyboards because they made it easier to hammer out e-mails.
Last month, Chen announced a five-year deal with Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology to outsource the manufacturing and design of some of its phones, aiming to offload more of the costs of its unprofitable manufacturing operations. While the first Foxconn-built phone was expected to be a touch-screen device, Chen said the traditional keyboard would hold sway in the long run.
In a show of how important keyboards are to the BlackBerry brand, the company is suing the maker of a snap-on keypad accessory for the iPhone, saying it closely resembles its products. That device - called the Typo Keyboard - is being unveiled this week at the Las Vegas show.
The Typo, which clicks onto the Apple iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s, violates BlackBerry's patents and designs, according to the complaint. The maker of the keyboard, a Los Angeles startup founded by American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, said it would vigorously defend itself against the suit.
In another sign that Chen is focusing on corporate customers and not consumers, the company parted ways last week with pop singer Alicia Keys. BlackBerry's previous chief executive, Thorsten Heins, had hired her to serve as global creative director. She joined him on stage last January when BlackBerry unveiled the Z10, a touch-screen phone that flopped with buyers and led the company to write off almost US$1 billion in unsold inventory.