BlackBerry is expected to launch its first Android smartphone later this year, as it continues to fight to gain market share and new customers in a global smartphone market that Apple and Samsung dominate.
Dubbed Venice, the smartphone will run an unknown version of Android and will be available from the big four mobile carriers in the United States—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—sometime in November, according to an Aug. 20 report by The International Business Times. The information for the report came from a leaked video and several leaked photos, as well as an Aug. 19 Twitter post by well-known news tipster Evan Blass, whose Twitter name is @evleaks.
Blass' post was straightforward. "BlackBerry Venice confirmed for November release on all four national U.S. carriers," he wrote, along with an additional tweet with leaked images.
The handset will be a slider phone, the report states, with a 5.5-inch quad-HD display that has curved glass edges on both sides. It will be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor and include 3GB of RAM, according to the report. A full QWERTY physical keyboard will be positioned below the sliding display, while the smartphone will also include an 18-megapixel rear-facing camera and dual LED flash. Also included will be Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and phase-detection auto-focus, as well as a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, the story reported.
Rumors about an Android-equipped BlackBerry smartphone solidified in June when Reuters reported that four anonymous sources had discussed the upcoming phone. BlackBerry, which has stood fast with its own operating system for its products for years, would be making a huge shift by releasing an Android phone, but it is in a position of having to try something new to remain relevant as a smartphone maker.
Richard Windsor, an analyst with Edison Investment Research, told eWEEK in an Aug. 20 email that BlackBerry's pending release of an Android phone is clear evidence that the company has lost its hardware mojo.
"Experiments like this and the Passport [smartphone] clearly indicate that BlackBerry should stop making hardware and instead focus on BES as a highly secure system for the mobilization of enterprise data," wrote Windsor. The fact that the company is even considering "yet another experiment that looks almost certain to fail should begin to hammer home the reality that BlackBerry has no future in hardware."
That would essentially make the Venice smartphone "a commodity device with a hardware innovation that the smartphone buying market clearly no longer cares about," wrote Windsor. "The real value in BlackBerry is in its highly secured email service, its device management service, BlackBerry Enterprise Server, and its overall reputation for enterprise-class security."
By unveiling a phone with Android, "BlackBerry is putting its reputation for security at risk," which will likely hurt it overall, he wrote. "Furthermore, I very much doubt that this device will be anything more than an oddity as users are now very accustomed to typing on touch-screens and don't really require physical keyboards anymore."
This isn't the first Android news from BlackBerry this year. In March, BlackBerry announced its plans for a new BlackBerry Experience Suite that will adapt much of its BlackBerry software to run on Android, iOS and Windows smartphones and tablets as it looks to broaden its reach into the enterprise even when companies are using competing devices. The BlackBerry Experience Suite, expected to be available by the end of 2015, aims to help enterprises and small businesses bring enterprise-class applications to their end users from a trusted partner such as BlackBerry, according to an earlier eWEEK report.
In March, BlackBerry launched a surprise smartphone, the Leap, which replaces the traditional BlackBerry physical keypad with a modern touch-screen aimed at getting the company's devices into the hands of younger mobile professionals. This device can now possibly be viewed as a bridge to an Android device as the company continues to tweak its product line to draw in more customers.
Still, any move to build and market a smartphone containing an operating system other than BlackBerry would certainly be a disturbing blow to the company's long history of building its own secure and sturdy enterprise operating system.
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 recent report from IDC. Windows Phone has a 2.7 percent market share.
BlackBerry spent much of 2012 and 2013 trying to shake off the image that it was finished, especially compared with five years earlier when its devices were the "enterprise gold standard" for mobile business communications.