The very idea smacks of desperation, and yet it almost makes sense. BlackBerry might make an Android smartphone, according to Reuters, and it will include a physical keyboard. The real question is, can such a phone make any sort of difference for the beleaguered BlackBerry this point?
The trials and tribulations of BlackBerry are well catalogued by now. It was the market leader for years, crashed hard after the iPhone and Android arrived, attempted a rebirth with BB10 in 2013, attempted another rebirth in 2014, and is now more or less out of juice when it comes to selling smartphones. What could possibly be next? Join those who beat you? Maybe.
BlackBerry is reportedly working on a new phone that will run Google's Android operating system rather than its own BlackBerry platform. The device is said to be a slider -- a handset that includes a large screen and a slide-out keyboard for pecking out emails and messages. The anonymous sources cited by Reuters didn't provide any real details about the phone.
Sliders mostly went the way of the dodo years ago, because they add bulk and weight to smartphones. BlackBerry actually made a slider called the Torch back in 2011. The company thinks it can appeal to those who want access to hundreds of thousands of apps, but also prefer a real keyboard. (One of BlackBerry 10's core weaknesses is the lack of apps.)
The Android device isn't truly about revitalizing hardware sales; instead, BlackBerry wants to boost sales of its BES12 device management product.
CEO John Chen has made it his mission to reform the company around BES, which lets businesses control employee smartphones. Android is a key part of this strategy -- and it has to be. Android handsets account for more than 80% of sales globally. BlackBerry would be insane to ignore Android. That's why BES12 can manage Android handsets and iOS devices in addition to BlackBerry's smartphones.
BlackBerry apparently believes offering its own Android handset will prove to IT managers that it is serious about controlling Android devices through BES. In order to do that, the Android handset in question will include BlackBerry's patented security software.
The problem for BlackBerry? Samsung already offers flagship smartphones with BlackBerry's security software onboard. Does the company really think it can convince people to buy a bulky, awkward slider when they can get a sleek and powerful Galaxy S? Moreover, BlackBerry has actively reduced the number of employees it has building handsets. The company recently laid off an unknown number of smartphone designers and engineers. Indeed, it seems a moonshot at best, even if the Android phone is meant to help goose BES sales.
The company didn't shoot down Reuters' report, but it made clear its stance on BlackBerry 10.
"We don't comment on rumors and speculation, but we remain committed to the BlackBerry 10 operating system, which provides security and productivity benefits that are unmatched," said BlackBerry.
BlackBerry's Android smartphone may arrive in the fall.