With the focus on their Android-powered PRIV and forthcoming mid-range Android handsets, it’s easy for BB10 users and fans to feel like BlackBerry has abandoned them and their favorite mobile platform. While it’s certainly true that BB10 development and support has been scaled back significantly from what it once was, it’s not all doom and gloom in BB10 land. In fact, if their Android devices can keep the device business going, we may see more BB10 devices released in the future.
BB10 can’t survive without Android
First, let’s talk candidly about the elephant in the room: Android. Many BlackBerry fans are up in arms about BlackBerry’s decision to halt the production of BB10 phones and instead release Android phones running a suite of BlackBerry software. They feel like BlackBerry has compromised its standards and lost its identity by going Android, but let’s examine the facts.
BlackBerry’s worldwide mobile OS marketshare (legacy BBOS devices and BB10 devices combined) has only decreased since BB10 debuted. It’s currently around .3% (three tenths of one percent). Much has already been written and speculated as to why that is and who or what is to blame.
I’m not going to exhaustively detail each of the most popular theories in this article, but I must address one of them because it comes up so often and is just so wrong that it must be challenged.
The claim that more and/or better marketing could have had BB10 phones flying off the shelves is just silly. No quantity or quality of marketing could have convinced millions of iOS and Android users to simply abandon their well-established, robust app and media ecosystems – and all the money they had already invested in them – for an unproven and initially incomplete platform that lacked much of the apps and content they were used to having.
Just look at Microsoft. They poured billions into marketing their Windows phone platform and were only able to carve out a few measly percentage points of marketshare – which is now ceding to iOS and Android. Windows phones suffer from the same problem as BB10 – they just don’t have the app and media content the average smartphone user wants.
Regardless of the reasons (which are many), it was clear early on that BB10 was not going to save BlackBerry’s handset business by itself.
With over 1.5 billion active devices and over 80% market share worldwide, Android has the user base, popularity, and developer support required for BlackBerry to even have a shot at selling enough devices to keep their phone business going.
For there to be any hope of a future for BB10, the handset business must continue to exist. Android gives them the best chance of making that happen.
You can still buy new BB10 phones
BB10 devices are still being marketed and sold via many carriers and directly through BlackBerry. Some have claimed that this is merely a desperate attempt to sell off remaining inventory before they completely kill the platform. But if their intention is to kill the platform, why not just write off the inventory and maintain support for enterprise customers still using BB10 handsets until they can transition them over to their Android phones?
BlackBerry hasn’t made money from their handset business in years – since long before CEO John Chen came aboard. And speaking of Chen, he’s done quite well at turning things around for the company financially by expanding their software business, so writing off existing BB10 handset inventory (which is nowhere near the levels it was when the Z10 was released) shouldn’t cause a huge fiscal crisis for them.
So why is BlackBerry still selling BB10 devices? Because they are still an essential part of the secure end-to-end solutions they offer. Because many of their customers don’t want Android, iOS, or Windows. Because, as they have repeatedly stated, they remain committed to BB10.
Yes, we’ve heard the “we remain committed to BB10” mantra over and over. And I’ve openly questioned the depth and extent of that commitment in light of their announcement last October that there were no plans to update native SDKs, Cascades, or the Android runtime.
But they have not backed down from this assertion. And a couple of recent hires by BlackBerry in their device business are also very encouraging.
At the end of April, it was announced that Alex Thurber – whose background includes work at WatchGuard, Tripwire, McAfee, and Cisco Systems – is now Senior Vice President, Global Device Sales at BlackBerry.
And more recently, BlackBerry announced that Ralph Pini – formerly of Paratek Microwave Inc. (which was acquired by BlackBerry) and most recently BlackBerry’s Vice President for Radio Frequency Technology – is now Chief Operating Officer and General Manager for Devices.
In a recent interview Mr. Pini stated:
The shifts and disruptions taking place in enterprise mobility today all signal great opportunity for BlackBerry to grow its customer base. I’m focused on three critical components to drive that. One, expanding on choice: we’re continuing to support customers who rely on BB10 even as we make more options available to those companies transitioning to Android. Two, leveraging security: more companies are adopting BYOD and enterprise fleet strategies that are creating enormous endpoint security challenges for IT – no one is better positioned to solve these challenges than BlackBerry, whether it is with BB10 or Android. Three, building on the BlackBerry pedigree.
Mr. Pini’s frequent mention of BB10 should be reassuring to those who think BlackBerry is planning to entirely abandon it.
A possible scenario for the future of BB10
Although there are no plans to release any new BB10 devices in 2016, I think there’s a good possibility BlackBerry already have plans to release at least one, maybe even 2 in 2017. While they are trying to get the security certifications of their Android devices up to par, BB10 is still their most secure mobile platform. Indeed, the next OS update for BB10 will help it gain NIAP certification, which means it will be in compliance with the strictest government security requirements. They have a significant number of government and business customers dependent on that security who are using the Passport, Classic, and Leap (and many older BB10 devices that are still going strong) and who will be looking to upgrade their smartphone fleets in 2017. BlackBerry would be foolish not to provide a new BB10 option for these customers.
Whether BB10 has a future beyond 2017 depends largely on how well BlackBerry’s Android devices sell. John Chen has said that BlackBerry needs to sell 3 to 5 million handsets per year to make their devices profitable. The PRIV is not anywhere near on-track to hit those numbers, mainly due to its high price point and the fact that the high-end smartphone market has reached saturation. Because there is still some market growth to be had in lower-priced devices, their forthcoming mid-range Android phones will be crucial to achieving that goal. Thanks to Chen and his team’s efforts in drastically reducing supply chain costs, their device business no longer needs to live or die by the high-end, high-profit-margin device. If these new phones are priced in the $300 – $400 range (even lower would be better), and BlackBerry can improve its marketing and distribution, they have a very good chance of hitting their target sales numbers over the next year or two.
If Android phone sales can stabilize their device business (or at the very least reverse the negative sales trend) they can start diverting resources back to BB10 development and support. At that point, we may see an updated native BB10 SDK, maybe even a newer version of the Android Runtime. BB10 devices would be marketed and sold mainly to government and business clients who require that level of security, but they should still be available for purchase through major carriers and directly from BlackBerry. That means non-government, non-business users like me who are fans of BB10 will still be able to get their hands on them, albeit probably not through traditional carrier distribution channels.
Carriers want to move inventory as much as BlackBerry does, so low-demand BB10 phones will likely stop making appearances on carrier websites and store displays, replaced by BlackBerry’s more widely marketable and sellable Android-powered devices. Enterprises and individuals will still be able to get their BB10 phones directly from BlackBerry via newly established direct-sales channels or BlackBerry’s website.
BB10 users also need to get used to the slower development and release cycle. One or two new devices every couple years and less frequent major OS updates (with the exception of crucial security patches) is likely the new normal. This may not sit well with smartphone users who have an insatiable need to upgrade every 6 to 12 months.
But if you are addicted to the BB10 flow – the ability it gives you to manage all your essential communications and notifications with seamless efficiency via the Hub, the way you can effortlessly toggle between multiple apps via Active Frames, the smoothness and power it consistently demonstrates on years-old hardware, the excellent native apps with the ability to run Android apps, the brilliant physical and virtual keyboards, the overall design language and style, and all the other intricate details and features of BB10 phones that make them the fantastic and unique devices they are – then you’ll be among the few millions of us who will appreciate BB10’s continued existence and be grateful that we will be able to enjoy it for years to come.