BlackBerry unveils Leap smartphone to lure touch-screen fans


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BlackBerry Ltd. introduced a 5-inch (12.7 centimeter) touch-screen device for the lower end of the market in the erstwhile smartphone leader’s latest attempt to regain customers.
The Leap, which comes in white and gray, will cost $275, less than half of what the latest smartphones from Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. go for. It’ll be sold via European carriers in April, Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry said at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Tuesday. The company is planning another device with a sliding keyboard this year.
Chief Executive Officer John Chen took over in late 2013, at a time when BlackBerry’s share of the global smartphone market had fallen to less than 1 percent. He brought back the iconic physical keyboard and oversaw the 2014 release of two new phones, the Passport and the Classic, higher-priced devices that went on sale at AT&T Inc. in the U.S. last month.
The Leap is aimed at boosting BlackBerry’s market share among younger professionals used to touch screens, Chen said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in Barcelona. The BlackBerry PassPort “is doing pretty good,” he said.
BlackBerry is also boosting investment in encryption and privacy features of its software to push its security and messaging programs to all devices, including iPhones, iPads and Android and Windows gadgets.
Beyond BlackBerry
“We’re going to make sure our software technology addresses everybody’s phones and everybody’s endpoint,” Chen said at the Barcelona event. Chen aims to get BlackBerry programs on connected cars, non-BlackBerry phones and wearable devices to boost the company’s transition from a slumping phonemaker to a more profitable software company.
Still, hardware revenue for the quarter through Nov. 29 dropped 24 percent to $361 million from a year earlier.
Chen has struggled to offset declining phone sales by increasing the company’s focus on software including its BBM messaging system and so-called virtual SIM technology that allows multiple phone numbers on a single device.
“Our financial game plan continues, making more money and generating more cash,” Chen said. “We are very hopeful about our future. We think we will be able to stabilize our revenue and position ourselves for growth.”
Chen, a former SAP SE executive, detailed plans on Sunday to build more software products for non-BlackBerry devices and to integrate the company’s services with products offered by Google Inc. and Samsung.

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