Android on BlackBerry Priv gives users mobile security, apps

BlackBerry hopes to reverse its fortunes with an Android smartphone for enterprises that want access to apps without compromising mobile security.

BlackBerry's first Android phone will be released later this year giving users the keyboard they've missed and the apps they demand, though it may come too late to give Blackberry the boost it needs.

The phone's name, the Priv, derives from "privacy," which BlackBerry CEO John Chen said will be the focus of the device.

"This phone is the answer for former BlackBerry users who missed the physical keyboard, but also need apps," Chen said during a disappointing Friday morning earnings call.

Chen confirmed leaked reports of a flagship slide phone that has BlackBerry's hallmark physical keyboard, running on Android, but is differentiated by BlackBerry's core strength of mobile security.

More details about the device will be released in the coming weeks, Chen promised, and the device will launch by year's end.

"It's an interesting chapter in the company's history as a storied enterprise player," said Eric Klein, senior mobility analyst at VDC Research Group in Natick, Mass. "It's acknowledging that they need to shift tactics. This is a big one for them. The writing is on the wall that the mobile ecosystem is an Android and iOS world."

The lack of depth in Blackberry's app ecosystem has for years been the Achilles Heel in its mobile business, while Android, the most widely used mobile operating system in the world, has the largest app ecosystem.

Conversely, BlackBerry is widely recognized for its mobile security and enterprise focus, two areas where Google Android falls short.

I see the next few phones as their last shot, otherwise they really should exit the hardware business.
Patrick MoorheadPresident and principal Analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy

"When you manage this device, using Android for work on BES12, you have the most secure Android device broadly available in the market," Chen said. "It also highlights the ability of our EMM platform to secure a cross-platform device in the enterprise."

While denying that BlackBerry will abandon its own mobile operating system, Chen did say there will not be a BB10 OS released this year. He noted that version 10.3.3 of the OS is scheduled to be available in March. BlackBerry launched the Passport and the Classic in the fourth quarter of last year, both running on the BlackBerry OS. 

Shooting down questions of whether BlackBerry's version of Android will be secured with Samsung Knox, Chen said his company is working directly with Google on securing the software of its new phone.

Blackberry Priv

BlackBerry, once the leading smartphone OS in terms of worldwide market share, has fallen to less than a third of a percent, according to research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass.

Despite the fall from prominence, IT still trusts the BlackBerry brand in terms of security, said Jack Narcotta, industry analyst at Hampton, N.H.-based Technology Business Research, Inc. (TBR).

"BlackBerry wants to regain the enterprise market while large consumer players like Apple look to move in on that space," he said. "At least from a product and technology roadmap, they do have something to talk about with the enterprise that they didn’t have yesterday."

The Priv has a shot but a very small one, said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy, a tech analyst firm based in Austin, Texas.

If BlackBerry can show off the best of both worlds in business security and consumer style and apps, that would be monumental. However, Moorhead noted that the Priv might not be enough to keep the handset business afloat.

"This is about three years too late," Moorhead said. "Had Blackberry made this same decision years ago, they could possibly be a thriving handset maker for the business world…I see the next few phones as their last shot, otherwise they really should exit the hardware business." 

BlackBerry reported revenue of $490 million for the quarter ending August 29, down over 46% from $916 million in the year-ago quarter. Net income came in at $51 million for Q2, down over 75% from $207 million in the same quarter last year.

Ramin Edmond is a news writer for TechTarget's End User Computing Media Group. Contact him at [email protected]

Dig Deeper on Google Android operating system and devices