Enterprise Security

Can Android Give BlackBerry New Life?

BlackBerry could be considering equipping an upcoming smartphone with Google’s Android operating system, Reuters reported last week. The move would be consistent with BlackBerry’s strategy to focus on software and device management instead of handsets.

Such a pivot would take the company away from its current strategy to regain lost market share with a new generation of BlackBerry smartphones. The launch of BlackBerry 10 devices failed to reverse the tide for the once-dominant smartphone maker, whose market share has fallen to just 1 percent.

BlackBerry has not publicly responded to the rumor, except to say that it remains committed to the BlackBerry 10 operating system, which it touted for its security and productivity benefits.

At the Mobile World Congress held earlier this year in Barcelona, BlackBerryunveiled a slider device to be released later this year. The Leap combines a touchscreen with a physical keyboard, which could appeal to some BlackBerry faithful.

However, if this device should be the rumored Android handset, it could be aimed at a broader category of users who prefer a physical keyboard in the touchscreen-dominated Android market.

BES 12 to Save the Day?

BlackBerry previously pegged its hopes on the BlackBerry 10 operating system introduced in early 2013. Although it was well received by reviewers, the devices running the operating system haven’t fared well against Android and iOS devices.

It now appears that BlackBerry CEO John Chen is gambling on the new device management system, BES12, to brighten the company’s future. It allows corporate and government clients to manage not only BlackBerry devices on internal networks, but also devices running Android, iOS and Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS.

By going one step further and introducing a device that runs on Android, BlackBerry could be aiming to prove that BES12 can manage smartphones and tablets powered by rival operating systems while providing greater security.

“This could open the door for more devices that run BES12, and at the same this could allow users to get Android apps on a BlackBerry device,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager for wearables and mobile phones at IDC.

“BlackBerry 10 will still have its core users,” he told the E-Commerce Times, but “this also shows that the focus for BlackBerry is on software.”

That is apparent by the number of recent acquisitions the company has made in the past year, Llamas added.

“Their devices aren’t falling by the wayside, and hardware isn’t something that BlackBerry is de-emphasizing, but it is clear that software is going to be a bigger part of the company’s business,” he suggested.

“While BlackBerry 10 is an excellent operating system, it simply does not have the scale and developer support to succeed in the global market against iOS and Android,” said Daniel Gleeson, senior analyst for mobile devices and networks at IHS.

“BlackBerry is a fraction of the size of Google or Apple, and the costs of maintaining the BlackBerry 10 software weigh heavily on the company’s bottom line,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “If BlackBerry does manage to transition ‘the BlackBerry experience’ to an Android phone successfully, it is high likely it will cease development of BlackBerry 10.”

The Move to Android

By moving to Android, BlackBerry might regain some handset business — but it is unlikely that it could recapture anywhere near the market share it had even five years ago.

Instead, “BlackBerry is clearly now on track to become an enterprise software and services company first, with its devices playing a minor role,” observed Gleeson.

“A move to Android is too late to save BlackBerry’s mass market ambitions,” he noted. “BlackBerry had built a strong position in several emerging markets on the back of its messaging service BBM, but the advent of WhatsApp and other messaging apps removed its key selling point.”

Too Many Operating Systems

History also has suggested that mobile phone makers who have tried to develop for multiple operating systems tend to increase their woes.

“I’m very wary of any company that tries a multiple OS strategy,” said Llamas.

“This just means there are more resources to manage, and security is another is another issue,” he added. “Past attempts have shown that multiple OS is not the way to go. Palm tried with Palm, Windows and webOS; Nokia had Symbian and Windows — and it didn’t help either company. So Android may not be the solution for BlackBerry.”

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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