MWC: BlackBerry misses a chance to tell a compelling security story

Naked Security is reporting this week from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

Two of the most notable devices at Mobile World Congress thus far have been from venerable old names: Nokia on Sunday rebirthed the iconic 3310, and on Saturday, BlackBerry unveiled its new flagship device, the KeyOne, which is expected to become available in April.

The KeyOne is made by Chinese vendor TCL under its licensing agreement with BlackBerry, and at first glance it’s not that bad. An unusually long device with a physical keyboard, it resembles a curious hybrid of iPhone and old-style BlackBerry, Particularly from the side, its aluminium frame and Apple style buttons will be familiar to iPhone users, while the keyboard is classic BlackBerry, if a little cramped.

So, yes, it’s nice enough, if you like that kind of thing, though I’m not sure that I do. As a former BlackBerry fan, I now find physical keyboards somewhat clunky and limiting. I doubt I’m alone in that.

And, as many reviews have already pointed out, it’s essentially a mid-range phone at a fairly premium price ($549, €599, £499). The KeyOne’s aluminum build and soft touch back are clearly a step up from many previous BlackBerry flagships, and the programmable keys are a nice touch. But apart from the 3505mAh battery, what’s inside is somewhat unimpressive, with its 2.0GHz Snapdragon 625 SoC, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, is the lack of a more compelling security story. Given that consumer concerns about security have never been higher, and that BlackBerry retains strong associations still with this area, the fact that this issue was presented as something of a secondary characteristic surely represents a missed opportunity.

KeyOne comes with the BlackBerry DTEK security suite, which is designed to continuously monitor and protect the OS, informing users when privacy could be compromised. It will also receive Android’s monthly security updates. But the company’s emphasis on security was probably indicated by its lowly place in the presentation’s running order, coming as it did towards the end.

So while KeyOne goes some way to dealing with the threats out there, which of course now encompasses mobile, Blackberry’s emphasis on security doesn’t go nearly far enough given the endless stream of new vulnerabilities and malware categories being identified, and the severity and sophistication of attacks. This is a shame.

Incidentally, the event was repeatedly billed by Blackberry as “an 18-plus event”, which led perhaps to a slightly higher level of anticipation among attendees than that generated by the launch itself. Having experienced the event, which consisted largely of a succession of the usual sub-Steve Jobs, dressed-down executive presentations, followed by a very crowded device hands-on experience, I never did find out the reason for the age restriction… perhaps I left too soon?