BlackBerry has confirmed its new slider phone will indeed run Google Android’s operating system in what is a major move for the smartphone vendor.
BlackBerry recently has recast itself as a provider of enterprise and personal handset security that is available across platforms.
Instead of security being tethered to its own BlackBerry handsets, the company offers to secure Apple, Android and Windows mobile devices as well.
While the handset business is part of BlackBerry’s mantra. it’s not centre stage as it was before.
Until now BlackBerry phones had run the company’s proprietary operating system but the firm had struggled both to keep its own user base and to entice users from other platforms.
Those users faced a dearth of apps available on BlackBerry’s platform, and a learning curve to master some of the OS’s niche features.
The Canadian firm tried to address the lack of apps by making it possible for users to run Amazon’s strain of Android apps on its platform. But it was evident months ago that it was producing an Android handset. It never scotched the persistent rumours about it.
The move to Android on this one particular “Priv” handset looks like BlackBerry is testing the waters. It also makes business sense.
Android is the least secure smartphone platform, and malware abounds. If BlackBerry manages to make the platform secure for users, its Android phone might garner a big following.
But the move also could raise eyebrows among some BlackBerry loyalists worried that the adoption of Android also means the loss of privacy and the curating of BlackBerry user data by Google for advertising and marketing purposes.
It’s one thing to render a user’s data safe and secure; it’s another issue ensuring that every time a BlackBerry users fires up a web browser that this information is not being meticulously collected and analysed by Google — that’s if the user cares.
BlackBerry chief executive John Chen has anticipated those concerns in an address posted on BalckBerry’s blog.
“There will be a camp that reacts to this news with surprise, while others will see how, over the past two years, we’ve laid the groundwork to make this possible,” Mr Chen said.
“It began with honing in on our DNA of security, privacy and productivity, and then bringing that heritage and continued innovation to other operating systems.
“So why is it important that we extend to Android? Launching an Android device is a tremendous new market opportunity as we continue our focus on building a cross-platform strategy.
“It’s a terrific proposition for dedicated Android users who are seeking greater productivity and powerful privacy features. And we are advancing our own platform, redefining the expectations of mobility in today’s age of risk and cybercrime so that we can serve customers even better.”
The message seems to have resonated with users who mostly posted positive responses on BlackBerry’s blog.
“I think this is a smart and nice move, there is a large market for a secure/private Android device that none of the other manufacturers could produce until now,” said one comment on the blogpost.
But not everyone was delighted. “Our privacy is dead. Google wins. It’s a human right to have our privacy. The corporate state is now in our lives. You sold out BlackBerry,” said another.
We’ll need to see the detail of how BlackBerry tackles both the data security issue and user privacy concerns to make a judgment.
As for the handset, the Priv has a physical keyboard like BlackBerry devices of old, along with security BlackBerry says it developed jointly with Google.
Mr Chen said the Priv handset would target smartphone users concerned about a lack of privacy on their current devices. He also was seeking to woo back BlackBerry users “who need it all: choice, innovation, security, privacy and productivity”.
“What’s unique about our Android phone is that we are collaborating with Google to bring the best of BlackBerry security and productivity to the Android ecosystem.
“At the same time, I want to be clear: fans of BlackBerry’s workhorse BlackBerry 10 smartphones can continue to depend on us, and we appreciate their commitment. We will be releasing new updates of this powerful OS in the upcoming year.”
BlackBerry meanwhile continues to be busy acquiring firms in the security space. This month it announced it had entered into an agreement to acquire Good Technology, a firm that specialises in delivering secure mobile solutions.
Last week, it announced it had completed its acquisition of AdHoc, a firm that provides crisis communications for use in times of natural disasters, emergencies, and even terror attacks. It was used by the US Navy in the 2013 Navy Yard shooting in Washington DC.