BlackBerry will run Android on its next two smartphone models in 2016, instead of its flagship BB10 mobile operating system, as it works to increase sales and find new energy in its hardware business.
The move to Android over BlackBerry’s BB10 OS was revealed by the company’s CEO, John Chen, in an interview at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, according to a Jan. 7 article by Pocket-Lint. Chen said the company will unveil two new mobile devices in 2016 and that both will run on Android, the report continued.
BlackBerry did not respond to several requests from eWEEK for comment about the announcement.
The move to an Android phone won’t be BlackBerry’s first. That distinction goes to the company’s Priv handset (pictured), which was released in November 2015 with a 5.4-inch curved glass touch-screen display, a 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 hexa-core processor, 3GB of RAM and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, along with Android 5.1. The Priv was aimed at enticing new users who want a different kind of phone with touch-screen capabilities and a true keyboard, along with the wide array of apps available for Android. BlackBerry is hitching much of its future hardware business on the new device, which is selling well, according to the company. Sales of the phone will be expanded to 31 countries by the end of February, according to an earlier eWEEK report.
The Priv was unveiled in hopes that it will help the company reclaim some of the hardware market share that it has lost to Android phones and Apple’s iPhones. BlackBerry, which has stood fast with its own operating system for its products for years, made a huge shift by releasing an Android phone, but found itself in the position of having to try something new to remain relevant as a smartphone maker.
Several IT analysts eWEEK contacted said that the move to create and market more Android devices by BlackBerry is a good one.
Maribel Lopez, principal of Lopez Research, told eWEEK that she likes Chen’s move because he is willing to do what is needed and that “there are no sacred cows with him. The entire management team has been saying that they can’t get rid of the BB10 OS because that’s who they are. But that’s not the battle to fight. If you’re not Microsoft, it’s just not worth fighting that battle.”
Abandoning the need to build and maintain its own OS gives BlackBerry more resources to fight the real battles where it can actually make progress in today’s marketplace, said Lopez.
“That means you can take your engineering resources and redeploy them for other things, like mobile security stuff on top of Android,” she said. “Who is making money on operating systems anyway? So they’ve got to get rid of that stuff.”
For BlackBerry, that will free the company up to be able to make money in the markets where it can be competitive, particularly in the secure device landscape that’s a logical place for it to fight, said Lopez.
In the meantime, it still makes sense for BlackBerry to offer devices because they can still pack them with their deep security offerings, which enterprise users will continue to need, she said. “There’s room, especially in the IoT world, for specialized hardware. I fully expect BlackBerry to have some kind of hardware in the future that goes with the overarching ecosystem.”
BlackBerry Moving to Android Over BB10 for Smartphones in 2016
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, wrote in an email reply to an eWEEK inquiry that BlackBerry’s decision makes sense. “We’ve come a long way from the time when an OS purely or largely defined a user’s end experience,” he wrote. “Instead, vendors are contending with customers who demand a more personalized experience, and the simplest way to accomplish that is via an app ecosystem.”
That wouldn’t be something that BlackBerry can do nowadays, wrote King, which is why the switch to Android is understandable. “BlackBerry no longer has the user base or financial wherewithal to build and support an app ecosystem of its own, so embracing Android offers the best avenue to accomplish that,” wrote King.
“In addition, the company has really stepped up its game in terms of product design,” wrote King. “Combining that new creative spirit with the richness of Android has made BlackBerry a company worthy of users’ attention and consideration.”
Rob Enderle, principal analyst of Enderle Group, told eWEEK in an email reply that the switch to Android also makes sense for the company because it had fallen too far behind the app curve and could never catch up in a way that would satisfy end users. “By adapting Android, Blackberry is again able to positively differentiate on what they do best and put the app problem behind them resulting in a far more popular and successful phone,” wrote Enderle.
For BlackBerry, “in hind sight, the only negative about this is they should have done it much sooner,” wrote Enderle.
Another analyst, Jan Dawson, chief analyst of Jackdaw Research, told eWEEK in an email reply that while the move wasn’t surprising, “it’s come a bit quicker than I would have expected. And if they really do go through this whole year with no new BB10 phones, then BB10 is dead,” he added.
“There’s no way to resurrect it at that point, and if their Android phones are doing well, why would they want to?”
Avi Greengart, a consumer platforms and devices analyst with Current Analysis, wrote in an email reply that the switch to Android was necessary if the company is to meet its goal of selling more handsets to increase its business.
“BlackBerry’s OS10 unit sales have been steadily dropping, [so] if the company is going to get anywhere near the five million unit run rate Chen says is needed for sustainability, it will have to sell more Android phones,” Greengart wrote. “If consumers value the BlackBerry brand and physical QWERTY experience, they’d better start buying Privs. If they don’t, BlackBerry will almost certainly exit the hardware business entirely next year.”
BlackBerry’s fall from dominating the enterprise smartphone market has been swift and stunning.
In early 2006, before the first iPhones appeared from Apple, half of all smartphones sold were BlackBerry models. By 2009, though, its share of the global smartphone market was down to 20 percent. The company continues to face growing competition from Apple, Samsung, Google and others.
In the first quarter of 2015, BlackBerry’s worldwide market share fell to 0.3 percent, compared with 78 percent for Android and 18.3 percent for iOS, according to a report from IDC. Windows Phone had a 2.7 percent market share.