With the announcement of its new PRIV device this week, BlackBerry has broken the mold. For the first time ever, it's produced a BlackBerry phone that runs a 3rd-party operating system — in this case, Android.
"It has the legacy of BlackBerry's old beloved hardware, with the keyboard and the slider keyboard. It has all the modern benefits of a high-end Android phone with a big...touch screen, and it has Android as an OS so it has all the apps that BB10 users just didn't have," says Daniel Bader, editor-in-chief of MobileSyrup.
"It's going to appeal to people who want to use the Android ecosystem but have been reticent to adopt it because of security concerns."
Android without the security risks
The Waterloo, Ont.-based company has taken Android's open source software and added three layers of security protection:
- A secure boot built into the hardware itself
- An app-checker that makes sure all downloaded Android apps are legitimate
- A suite of anti-virus protectors that ensure if something does break through, it can be shut down and disposed of quickly
With the company's market share down to less than 1 per cent in North America, Bader says BlackBerry knows it needs to sell more phones.
"So I think this is a way of them saying 'We know that BB10 isn't working, but we know that we made really good hardware, maybe if we can convince 5 to 10 million people to buy this Android phone, then we can consider our handset business still a viable option for government and Fortune 500 companies who are reluctant to stay on BlackBerry because their users want apps, but still want the security BB10 gives them.' "
BlackBerry's final phone?
The PRIV could be the company's final in-house device, predicts Bader.
Not long after taking control of the company as CEO in November 2013, John Chen said he would bow out of the handset business if it couldn't make money.
"If I cannot make money on handsets, I will not be in the handset business," Chen said at the time, though later clarified that he was determined to find a way to make the business profitable.
"I do think this is their final experiment. It has all the trappings of a last gasp," says Bader.
The phone is expected to cost $400 on-contract and $950 to buy outright. At that price point, says Bader, the PRIV could be a good gamble.
"Hardware margins, when you you sell them in high enough volume, they can be very profitable. They can reboot BlackBerry's business," he said.
The PRIV is expected to be released in Canada in late November.