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BlackBerry has one more go at smartphones with first Android handset

BlackBerry Priv

Amid almost no fanfare BlackBerry has sneaked out its first ever handset not based on its own operating system. The Android-based Priv has surely got to be BlackBerry’s last roll of the dice in a smartphone market it once defined.

It says something about the likely ambivalence BlackBerry feels towards the Priv that there has been very little PR support for the launch. The first formal reference to it was in BlackBerry’s fiscal Q2 release back in September.

“In order to expand our leadership in cross platform software and services, we are investing strategically – organically through new products and services based on the BES platform, and through acquisitions like AtHoc and Good,” said CEO John Chen in the release.

“At the same time, we are focused on making faster progress to achieve profitability in our handset business. Today, I am confirming our plans to launch Priv, an Android device named after BlackBerry’s heritage and core mission of protecting our customers’ privacy. Priv combines the best of BlackBerry security and productivity with the expansive mobile application ecosystem available on the Android platform.”

Chen’s quote neatly summarises the situation BlackBerry has been in since Android and iOS took off: how to compete with an inferior developer ecosystem. Around 5 years ago, when the founders were still in charge, there was the stroppy concession of support for Android apps on the BlackBerry platform, but that was just a sticking plaster. As Microsoft has also found, there is currently only room for two platforms in the smartphone market.

The understandable reluctance to accept this from companies with their own platforms has proved disastrous for the likes of BlackBerry and Nokia, but then again hardly any Android OEMs are making money these days. BlackBerry is hoping there is some residual brand equity left from its secure email legacy to provide this Android phone with a USP.

Early reviews seem broadly positive and the device is being sold by some major players including AT&T and Carphone Warehouse. You can also buy it direct from BlackBerry at the premium price of £559.

There’s still a lot of residual goodwill towards BlackBerry in the market, but not enough to significantly influence buying decisions. It’s hard to imagine consumers switching back to BlackBerry after all this time just because it’s moved to Android, but maybe some enterprise or public sector relationships will be rejuvenated by the Priv.


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