BlackBerry might be done making phones that run its own operating system.
CEO John Chen told CNET today the company will release at least one, and possibly two, new devices this year that will run Android instead of the company’s own BlackBerry 10 OS.
This move follows the launch of the BlackBerry Priv, which is the first Android-specific device from the Waterloo-based handset maker.
Chen said he is taking a “cautiously optimistic” view of the device’s popularity. An exclusivity agreement with AT&T is winding up, and the phone will be available for Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint on Jan. 26.
What It Means
The Priv has generally received positive reviews, and gives those who have craved a physical keyboard an alternative amidst a world of glass slabs. However, this move may not sit well with the small but vocal BlackBerry diehards who prefer to BBM one another and like all the BlackBerry-specific hardware tweaks.
Yet the bottom line for BlackBerry is that the smartphone race is a two-horse world: Android and the iPhone. The company’s best bet at remaining relevant is to embrace Android and put its hardware prowess into making attractive phones.
BlackBerry’s main advantage here is with security: the company is following Google’s new effort to issue monthly security patches.
Backed by BlackBerry
This arose out of the Stagefright vulnerability, which made practically every Android device susceptible to malware through MMS messages. Companies that are considering a mass deployment or accepting BYOD might be more willing to trust an Android phone that’s backed by a security-conscious company like BlackBerry.
Chen has pegged 2016 as a make-or-break year. If the company can’t turn things around it may get out of the handset business altogether.
The CEO didn’t indicate if there would be a future return to its own software, but looking into the future there doesn’t appear to be a compelling reason to bring it back. With Android’s dominant worldwide market share, going with Google’s OS certainly seems like the best option.
Along with the launch to other networks, BlackBerry plans to sell the Priv in 31 other countries at a cost of $699. CEO Chen did hint that the cost could drop, however, if that made strategic sense.