Last November, BlackBerry released its very first device running on the Android operating system, the BlackBerry Priv. While it wasn’t a secret that BlackBerry’s revamped BlackBerry 10 OS (released in 2013) wasn’t doing so hot, I’m not sure how many people truly believed that BlackBerry would be turning to Android anytime soon. After all, the company seemed to be taking a step in the right direction with their unique device, the BlackBerry Passport.
Aside from the novelty of having a BlackBerry running on Android, the Priv has its place in the Android world. With BlackBerry’s focus on security, the Priv – which BlackBerry markets as being short for “Private” – stands to be one of the more secure devices in Android’s line-up. And while the device may not be as secure as a device using BlackBerry’s own operating system, it’s still an improvement and a unique take on Android. I think BlackBerry introduced the Priv at a particularly good time considering the effects of the Stagefright vulnerability, which continues to effect Android devices in new ways that require a close monitor on updates and patches; additionally, there has been an influx of media interest in just how well-protected the data in our phones truly are.
Still, the introduction of the Priv leads many to question where BlackBerry’s future lies. Are they completely moving towards Android, or will they eventually release more BlackBerry 10 devices? Nothing is outside the realm of possibility, but recent news will lead us to believe that the former is most likely. According to BlackBerry CEO John Chen, BlackBerry has 2 mid-range Android devices in the works: one with a full touchscreen, and the other with our beloved BlackBerry physical QWERTY keyboard.
Chen says that the Priv was too high-end for its target market, which is typically enterprise users. As a result, mid-range devices will be introduced with familiar designs for those who love classic BlackBerry design and for those who have since moved on to the modern slab-style design. While heading towards mid-range may seem like a backwards move, in retrospect it isn’t too surprising that a high-end device that focused on security and essentially restricting the very thing that makes Android appealing (open source and the ability to root) may not have done so well – especially with younger folk and power users. As for enterprise users, apparently high-end specs really aren’t that important after all. A mid-range offering seems to be BlackBerry’s best move here.
But I don’t think BlackBerry should completely rule out making more high-end smartphones. The Priv was a good idea, and while BlackBerry has the security part down, there were a couple of things wrong with the Priv that, had they been fixed, could have made it a much more tempting device for a wider audience. The build quality was the issue I came across, claiming that the device was just too vulnerable to bends and screen cracks with its sliding physical QWERTY keyboard. The camera, which is a pretty big deal in today’s smartphones, needed improvement. Also, after much consideration, I think maybe the idea of adding the physical QWERTY keyboard to a full touchscreen design maybe isn’t the most appealing – or useful - design choice. I’m as nostalgic as any for the old BlackBerry keyboards, but I think those are best suited for phones with a truly classic BlackBerry design, such as the Q10, Q5, or BlackBerry Classic.
It is clear that BlackBerry’s biggest interest is still enterprise users, which is why their move to mid-range isn’t really a big deal if that’s what their consumer base demands. However, as somebody who is becoming more concerned with smartphone security but has more frivolous use out of a phone, I would still love to see a high-end BlackBerry with generic flagship pizazz in the future.