Enterprise Security

BlackBerry Sees the Android Light

BlackBerry on Friday announced that it would introduce an Android smartphone later this year.

The announcement came during the company’s Q2 earnings call. The device will be known as the “Priv” and will be built around user privacy, said CEO John Chen.

“Priv combines the best of BlackBerry security and productivity with the expansive mobile application ecosystem available on the Android platform,” he added.

Short on Details

BlackBerry didn’t offer any specifics about the Priv beyond the name — nothing about pricing, U.S. carrier partners or any handset specs. However, rumors have been abundant since earlier this year, when the company unveiled a slider phone at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.

The Priv could feature a slide-out keyboard. It could be powered by a 1.8-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor and offer 3 GB of RAM. It might have a 5.4-inch screen with 2560×1440 resolution, and 18mp rear-facing and 5mp front-facing cameras.

What is clear is that the new device will move BlackBerry much closer to the Android ecosystem.

“It is Android with BlackBerry on top,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager for wearables and mobile phones at IDC.

It has the “BlackBerry” name, so users can be assured it won’t stray away from network and security roots, he told the E-Commerce Times.”It could bring Google users to the secure platform, while providing the 1.5 million apps to BlackBerry in the process.”

BlackBerry’s Own Flavor

Handset makers favor Android because it’s open source, and they can tweak it to give their devices distinguishing features. BlackBerry likely will do that with its Priv as well, so that even though it will run Android, it will have functionality that’s unique to BlackBerry devices.

“BlackBerry has leveraged the Android OS infrastructure since the launch of BlackBerry 10. That offered compatibility with some Android apps,” said Ian Fogg, head of the mobile and telecoms team at IHS Technology.

“What it lacked was full support for the Google Play services, and what is striking about Priv is that it will run a flavor of Android that leverages the full ecosystem of Android,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

It also could be a more secure device, Fogg added.

“This is an opportunity for someone to create that truly secure phone running Android, but how much security it will offer is something we won’t know until it ships,” explained Fogg.

BlackBerry 10 Lives On

BlackBerry was quick to point out that it isn’t abandoning its own operating system. It will launch the next update for BlackBerry 10 — version 10.3.3 — by March.

The move to Android will require the company to take on a two-platform support strategy, but it could gain support among app developers.

“BlackBerry had a come-to-Jesus moment and realized that it simply doesn’t have the customer base for enough developers to justify developing for BB10,” said Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics.

“Size matters, and Android’s got size,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “If the product has the same enterprise credentials as the BB10 device, then IT departments won’t care.”

Duality of BlackBerry

Even though Chen has pledged continued support for BB10, the company would have to succeed where many others have failed if it really were intent on pursuing a multiplatform strategy.

“History has never been kind to those companies that have had multiplatform plans,” suggested Llamas.

The investments and efforts required are not insignificant, he noted. Each platform requires a dedicated team to keep it up and running.

Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who has covered consumer electronics, technology, electronic entertainment and fitness-related trends for more than a decade. His work has appeared in more than three dozen publications, and he is the co-author of Careers in the Computer Game Industry (Career in the New Economy series), a career guide aimed at high school students from Rosen Publishing. You can connect with Peter on Google+.

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