For years, BlackBerry ignored the Android operating system and persisted with their own platforms. The original java-based BlackBerry OS gave way to BlackBerry 10, based on the well-respected and technically impressive QNX platform. BlackBerry 10 had a user interface that borrowed ideas from web OS, iOS and Android, and shortly after launch gained compatibility with Android applications. However, in late 2015 BlackBerry introduced their first device build around the Android OS. Since then we’ve seen a number of Android-powered handsets and the most recent is the BlackBerry KEYone, a BlackBerry offering a hardware keyboard permanently occupying part of the front of the device, plus modest internal hardware. The BlackBerry KEYone includes a mid-range system-on-chip and a HD resolution, 3:2 aspect ratio LCD panel.
Regular readers will appreciate that hardware is only one part of the device experience. The greater part of the experience is the software, as well designed and optimised software can run well on even low end hardware, whereas poorly built software does not perform well on high end software (Samsung). For BlackBerry, today the company considers itself to be a security and software business. BlackBerry devices are built by TCL and use BlackBerry branded software, which is called the “BlackBerry Secure.” BlackBerry have announced they are to licence this BlackBerry Secure operating system to other manufacturers. The new Android-based BlackBerry Secure includes all of the privacy and security functions that a BlackBerry-branded device comes with.
BlackBerry’s Senior Vice President, General Manager, Mobility Solutions, Alex Thurber, explains: “We have a number of different contracts that we are working on right now. We expect some to be announced soon… We have an agreement with Optiemus for the India market for BlackBerry Secure.” Optiemus is a distributor of mobile phones and accessories and has already signed a ten year brand licensing deal with BlackBerry, which gives it the exclusive rights to design, manufacture and sell BlackBerry-branded devices in India and a number of local countries. This deal mirrors BlackBerry’s deal with Chinese manufacturer TCL (it’s TCL that design and build the BlackBerry KEYone for example).
What could this mean for Android? Theoretically it means that most devices currently running Android could use the BlackBerry Secure platform instead. There are hundreds of millions of compatible devices. BlackBerry have been considering the Internet of Things too; there is definitely a case for securing the anticipated billions of connected devices, many of which could be running Android. It is also possible that manufacturers will offer a BlackBerry Protect version of their devices, perhaps biased towards the enterprise or big business model. Who knows; we might be seeing a company such as BLU or Wileyfox striking a deal to offer the BlackBerry Protect operating system onto their devices?
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