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BlackBerry plans to release two mid-range Android smartphones this year

BlackBerry plans to release two mid-range Android smartphones this year


But will they fare better than the $699 Priv?

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BlackBerry isn't finished with the hardware business yet. CEO John Chen said this week in an interview with Abu Dhabi's The National that two new BlackBerry smartphones are on the way: one with a physical keyboard, and another with a full touchscreen. Both will run Android.

But how will that be different than the Priv, the company's first Android-powered smartphone? Since its launch late last year, it has failed to boost sales, which dropped to just 600,000 units last quarter.

Priv was "too high-end a product"

Chen now admits that the Priv was a misstep, telling the government-owned paper, "The fact that we came out with a high end phone [as our first Android device] was probably not as wise as it should have been." He added that the $699 slider phone was "was too high-end a product," noting that "a lot of enterprise customers have said to us: 'I want to buy your phone, but $700 is a little too steep for me. I’m more interested in a $400 device.'" (The Priv's price was recently dropped to $649.)

So the two new BlackBerry phones, which are rumored to be code-named the Rome and the Hamburg, will target a mid-level price point. BlackBerry executives are likely pushing for a sub-$500 price off-contract. And the company will keep pushing its marketing angle that it sells the only truly secure Android devices.

A set of very blurry images of new BlackBerry phones found on BlackBerry Central founder Dylan Habkirk's BBM channel likely are renders of the two new devices, though the pictures don't reveal much. No matter what they look like, these two smartphones will represent Chen's last attempt at keeping BlackBerry as a hardware company: he's previously targeted sales of 5 million phones per year in order to keep the unit profitable, and if he doesn't get there soon, he'll be pushed to abandon the effort.