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Startup’s 5G Blackberry revival is reportedly no more

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OnwardMobility was working on an Android device with a keyboard

BlackBerry Priv
A close-up of the 2015 BlackBerry Priv.
Image: The Verge

Plans to resurrect the Blackberry brand with a new keyboard-equipped 5G Android device have been shelved, according to reports from Android Police and CrackBerry. Development on the device was announced in 2020 by Texas-based startup OnwardMobility, after it licensed the brand name from Blackberry. The device was rumored to use a similar design to 2015’s Blackberry Priv — which had a physical keyboard that could be revealed with a slide of its screen — with a release date planned for some time in 2021.

That, obviously, didn’t happen, but there were signs of life earlier this year when OnwardMobility published a blog post titled “Contrary to popular belief, we are not dead.” Although the company admitted that it had “encountered various delays that prevented us from shipping in 2021” it said it hoped to provide an update on its “ultra-secure 5G enterprise smartphone” soon.

Now it seems the situation has radically shifted. CrackBerry reports that “multiple sources” have confirmed to the publication that “OnwardMobility and their BlackBerry 5G keyboard phone dream are dead.” Android Police adds that OnwardMobility’s license to use the Blackberry branding was recently canceled and that BlackBerry’s CEO John Chen was reluctant for the brand’s name to be used on another smartphone. The industry’s continued supply-chain issues are unlikely to have helped.

OnwardMobility did not immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment. Android Police notes it’s unclear whether the company will pivot to releasing a non-Blackberry branded smartphone, or cease trading entirely. But, perhaps notably, its update from last month doesn’t mention the Blackberry name.

Blackberry itself got out of the consumer smartphone business in 2016 to focus on cybersecurity products and services for enterprises, and products running its own software stopped working earlier this year. The brand name has been licensed out to smartphone manufacturers like TCL and Optiemus Infracom over the years, though each of these companies eventually moved away from the brand.

Given the number of resurrections BlackBerry-branded smartphones have had over the years, it feels presumptuous to call this the final nail in the coffin. But the body’s been cold for a while now.