Commentary
1/7/2016
03:15 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary

BlackBerry's Chen Optimistic About Future With Android

BlackBerry's Android-based Priv handset is gaining enough traction that BlackBerry will use Android for more smartphones. CEO John Chen detailed his vision for the Canadian company at CES this week.



Samsung, Huawei, HTC Show Off Smartwatches At CES
Samsung, Huawei, HTC Show Off Smartwatches At CES
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

BlackBerry plans to release just one or two new devices this year, and both will run Google's Android platform rather than BlackBerry's own operating system. CEO John Chen is charting a new course for the company and signaled what may be the end of its failed BBOS 10.

BlackBerry released the Priv smartphone several months ago.

It is a curious device in that it is the first from BlackBerry to run an operating system other than its own. The device relies on Android and boasts security and communication tools from BlackBerry to make it a more compelling option for business users. The Priv can be managed by BES just like a standard BlackBerry.

Apparently, this is what people want.

Sales of the Priv are "so far, so good," said Chen in an interview at the CES trade show in Las Vegas with Cnet. "I'm taking a cautiously optimistic view."

(Image: BlackBerry)

(Image: BlackBerry)

The Priv is only available from AT&T, but that is about to change. The company will make the smartphone available through carriers Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless in the weeks and months ahead. T-Mobile will begin selling the Priv Jan. 26, with Sprint and Verizon to follow in February or March.

Moreover, BlackBerry will push the Priv to 31 new countries over the next few quarters.

In other words, the Priv is doing well enough that it has set the stage for more Android-based smartphones. Chen says BlackBerry may turn a profit. Even so, the company plans to take it slow. Chen has said several times that he will drop the smartphone business entirely if the company can't make the unit profitable. The Priv will have to continue to sell well if BlackBerry is to make a second Android phone.

[Can BlackBerry be saved? Here are eight suggestions.]

What is to become of BlackBerry OS 10?

Chen stopped short of saying the platform is entirely dead, but did note that the company would have to bring in a serious amount of cash from Priv sales if it is to ever make another BBOS handset. There will be no new BBOS phone this year -- that much is certain. BlackBerry hasn't released a BBOS handset since late 2014. BlackBerry will continue to sell what stock it has left of the BlackBerry Classic, and will support older BBOS handsets, such as the Z10 and Q10.

BBOS 10 was developed under the leadership of former CEO Thorsten Heins.

Heins was kicked out in late 2013 after the platform failed to gain traction with business customers. Chen took Heins's place at that time and was quick to refocus the company on providing secure mobile communications and device management.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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