BlackBerry

Could BlackBerry produce an Android smartphone?

Editors Note: In the interest of transparency, Rapid Mobile are a BlackBerry Platinum Enterprise Partner and Rapid John is a BlackBerry Elite who also operates our BlackBerry Developer Group.[divider]
Ever since the rumors on the internet started about BlackBerry producing an Android smartphone, BlackBerry users have been involved in terse, sometimes heated, debates over whether BlackBerry could actually produce an Android smartphone. On a technical level, the answer is quite simply – yes!

Android is open source and literally available for any company to use, but Google services (which include the Google Play Store) are only available to Google’s partners in the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) that are certified by the Android Compatibility Program (ACP).

When a company joins the OHA, they are agreeing not to fork Android. At a simplistic level, this means that if BlackBerry joined the OHA, they won’t be able to include the current Android Runtime that is included with the BlackBerry 10 OS. By doing so, they would be contributing to fragmentation of the Android platform, which the OHA is strictly geared to avoid.

Now whether that is a good or bad thing is open to debate and down to personal choice!

There are BlackBerry users (like myself) who firmly believe that implementing the Android Runtime was the worst thing BlackBerry could have done. It hindered BlackBerry 10 native development and put off a lot of developers working on BlackBerry 10 and those considering developing for BlackBerry 10. There are also a lot of users who quite simply won’t install an Android app on their BlackBerry 10 device.

On the other side of the coin are the BlackBerry users who think that the Android Runtime is the savior to BlackBerry’s undeniable lack of native apps problem. These are the users who not only use the built-in Amazon Store but are quite happy to sideload Snap, hacked Google Apps and more onto their BlackBerry devices. All in a desperate attempt to gain access to top Android apps not otherwise available to them.

The crux of the matter is that the huge majority of the users I have referred to are consumer users and BlackBerry consumer users have one massive problem – they either won’t, or can’t, listen to what BlackBerry have been saying for months. BlackBerry are concentrating on the enterprise! It doesn’t matter how many times BlackBerry say it, there are BlackBerry users that quite simply don’t hear it.

On the enterprise side of things, where BlackBerry are focusing most of their attention, things are completely different. The message is clear and support by BlackBerry in the enterprise sphere is currently first-class.

BlackBerry 10

BlackBerry will not be dropping BlackBerry 10

Before we even discuss Android by BlackBerry, one thing is abundantly clear – BlackBerry will not be dropping BlackBerry 10 anytime in the near future!

BlackBerry is the chosen mobile solutions provider for all of the G7 governments and is a trusted partner to governments across the globe. To date, BlackBerry has received more than 50 government certifications and the BlackBerry 10 platform remains the only mobility solution to receive the coveted Full Operational Capability (FOC) certification to run on DoD networks.

The BlackBerry 10 OS and BES12 with Regulated-level Enterprise Mobility Management, provide the ultimate device management solution for government and regulated environments. BlackBerry couldn’t give it up, even if they wanted to!

So, on the assumption that BlackBerry 10 will live on in the enterprise, where does that leave a pure Android smartphone from BlackBerry?

The answer is simply to remove the Android Runtime from BlackBerry 10. That would meet the OHA criteria and allow BlackBerry to produce a first-class Android smartphone.

BlackBerry Google

BlackBerry and Google

BlackBerry and Google have been working closely together for some time now “to set new standards in enterprise mobile security for organizations deploying Android devices”.

Android Lollipop delivers key enterprise functionality and addresses any previous enterprise security concerns. BES12 already supports Android Lollipop.

More importantly, new features will soon be available through Android and BES12 enabling organizations to further secure enterprise and personal data on Android devices.

Straight from BlackBerry:

“Soon, new features available through Android and BES12 will enable organizations to further secure enterprise and personal data on Android devices, set new levels of hardware based encryption, ensure tight integration with Google Playâ„¢ for Work, for increased application management, while delivering a consistent end-user and management experience across their Android fleet.”

In case you missed it, there will soon be tight integration with Google Playâ„¢ for Work, which is further reiterated with:

“All the apps you need

Find and deploy business apps easily with Google Play for Work and create apps quickly with the Android app framework. Seamlessly integrate with existing IT systems.”

Android for Work support will be included natively in Android 5.1 devices and newer. Limited Android for Work support will be available to Android 4+ (Ice Cream Sandwich) devices via an after-market software download.

BES12 will offer native support of Android Lollipop devices either on-premise or in the cloud, and will be supported by BlackBerry’s gold standard of mobile security, scalable architecture and trusted network infrastructure.

It’s axiomatic that if BlackBerry and Google can agree on Google Playâ„¢ for Work, that agreement can be easily be extended to the consumer Google Playâ„¢ Store.

Google Play Services

Requirements

In my opinion, the requirements for a BlackBerry Android phone to be successful are pretty straightforward. Pure Android, secured by BlackBerry, bringing Google Play Services, the App Store and Google apps etc. On top of that, they need to bring the Hub over to Android (which is happening anyway). Apart from that, there doesn’t really need to be a specific BlackBerry theme.

One huge thing for me is that the physical device has to match current specs at the time of release. However, in order for the device to be hugely successful, it has to bring something unique to the table. Software-wise that could be the hub and any other software BlackBerry decides to implement in the device.

However, if it is a slider device, with a physical keyboard, then that would be a huge pull for existing Android users. Android users who have left BlackBerry (and there are millions of them) could be tempted back to the platform if it was running Android and supported everything they currently use. Those who prefer a physical keyboard would have it and those who prefer an all-touch device would never have to slide out the physical keyboard, if they chose to do so.

Benefits

There are tons of benefits to the device scenario that I have suggested above. Quite simply, Blackberry users who want Android apps would be able to buy their BlackBerry secured Android smartphone, have access to the BlackBerry experience and all the apps that the other 99% of the mobile industry have access to. BlackBerry users who prefer the pure BB10 OS can buy their choice of device, which will have no Android runtime.

Of course, this would leave those BlackBerry users that fall somewhere in the middle. You know them, those users that are anti-Android, scream to the heavens how poor Android is while they cram Android apps onto their BB10 devices. If BlackBerry were clever, the Android runtime could be made available as a standalone paid app for BB10. Users that want it could buy it from BlackBerry World. In my opinion, it should be a paid app that generates revenue for BlackBerry.

User Benefits

  • An Android device that they know is secure, as it is secured by BlackBerry.
  • The BlackBerry Hub on their Android smartphone
  • Access to millions of apps available to other Android users via Google Play Store.
  • Access to Google Services, Google Apps and many other app that require Google Services.
  • The end of BlackBerry users being ripped off having to buy paid apps with illegal api’s that could be closed down at any time.
  • No more having to pay for equivalent apps that are free to Android users.
  • Access to the latest versions of Android apps as they are updated.
  • The ability to use paid apps on multiple devices
  • Access to a whole world of wearable devices and Android Wear
  • Access to complete streaming services like Chromecast, Fire TV stick etc
  • and more….

Developers

BlackBerry producing an Android smartphone and dropping the Android runtime from the BlackBerry 10 OS would not only be in line with BlackBerry’s whole enterprise-first policy but their developer policy.

Now let me make this abundantly clear! At no point in time has BlackBerry told their developers to stop developing for the BlackBerry 10 OS. Anything you have read to the contrary elsewhere is just pure crap, if you pardon my French. What BlackBerry have done is state that if developers are writing consumer apps then they should target the Android platform, while developers writing enterprise and productivity apps should write natively and target the BlackBerry 10 platform.

Once again, this makes sense and follows the enterprise-first focus.

BlackBerry will not be stopping BlackBerry 10 development, or updating the SDKs. While they may not be as prolific as they originally were, the sdk’s will bring more and more features that enable developers to develop native apps for the enterprise.

Developer Benefits

  • Access to millions of new users
  • Ability to include Google Services and more in their apps
  • The ability to develop for masses of wearable devices
  • The ability to fully develop for streaming services like Chromecast etc
  • Enterprise developers able to develop for the enterprise and have their app really stand out
  • and more….

Is it happening?

I am NOT saying that this is what BlackBerry are doing. What I am saying is that this would be the easiest and best route for BlackBerry to take. Of course they have other options like using Hypervisor, a Hybrid OS, a dual booting OS etc. The downside is that all these other options will more than likely not get an agreeement from Google, will only slightly improve the existing Android situation on BlackBerry 10 and will only appeal to BlackBerry’s current dwindling userbase.

If BlackBerry are to stay in the hardware business, then they know that they must reach out to others not only in the enterprise sphere but also in the consumer sphere.

BlackBerry make some amazing devices and the majority of BlackBerry 10 smartphones have won numerous design awards. Do the masses simply not like the BlackBerry 10 OS or is it simply just the dearth of apps that is the problem?  It’s an interesting question and one that a pure Android device from BlackBerry could provide the answer to.

There’s no arguing that it is a gamble for BlackBerry to produce an Android smartphone but it is a gamble worth taking.

IF, and it is a big IF, BlackBerry can get this right, it could be huge for both the company and their users. A high-spec smartphone, secured by BlackBerry, with the BlackBerry experience, Google Services and Play Store all on-board could just shoot BlackBerry back to where they belong – as a major player in the hardware business.

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