(Adds details, CEO and analyst’s comments, share price move)
By John McCrank and Euan Rocha
NEW YORK/TORONTO, Dec 17 (Reuters) - BlackBerry Ltd launched its long-awaited Classic on Wednesday, a smartphone it hopes will help it win back market share and woo those still using older versions of its physical keyboard devices.
The Canadian mobile technology company said the new device, which bears striking similarities to its once wildly popular Bold and Curve handsets, boasts a larger screen, longer battery life, an expanded app library with access to offerings from Amazon.com Inc’s Android App store, and a browser three times faster than the one on its legacy devices.
“The conversation about BlackBerry has changed in the last year,” Chief Executive John Chen said as he launched the Classic at Manhattan’s upscale Cipriani restaurant. “We are here to stay, there is no question about that. Now we have to engineer our growth.”
He said BlackBerry had listened to its fans and brought back the command bar functionality that helped make its legacy phones easy to navigate.
When the company initially introduced its new BlackBerry 10 operating system and devices early in 2012 it put more emphasis on touchscreens, alienating many fans of its physical keyboard.
Those who moved to the new physical keyboard phones that BlackBerry launched later were unhappy that command keys such as the Menu, Back, Send and End buttons, along with the trackpad had been dropped.
With the Classic and the recent launch of its Passport smartphone, Chen is in some ways taking the company back to its roots, re-emphasizing the physical keyboard, rather than trying to compete directly against the touchscreen handsets of dominant rivals like Samsung Electronics and Apple.
“We expect the Classic to be the most popular BlackBerry enterprise device and the easiest transition for current BB7 (legacy device) users,” said Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um.
The launch also coincided with an upgrade on BlackBerry’s stock by BGC analyst Colin Gillis, who raised his price target to $12.50 from $11, and rating to “buy” from “hold.”
Shares in BlackBerry were up 5.2 percent at $10 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq.
The Waterloo, Ontario-based company, which also unveiled a new suite of enterprise applications and software bundles targeted at major corporate clients, said the Classic is on sale immediately on Amazon.com and shopblackberry.com.
It said major Canadian carriers Rogers, Telus and Bell would have limited availability before Christmas, with major U.S. carriers Verizon and AT&T getting the Classic shortly afterward. (Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson, Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Galloway)