For the last month or so, I’ve been reading lots of stories about a BlackBerry smartphone running Android. Today, a BlackBerry/Android partnership seems even more certain. BlackBerry has seen better days, so we can expect a last-ditch effort. What I didn’t expect is having so many feelings about it.
Like many before me, I wrote off BlackBerry a long, long time ago. But once upon a time, in the pre-iPhone years, I lusted after my ex-girlfriend’s BlackBerry. It seemed, quite literally, a computer for your pocket, hardware keyboards and all. Back then, that was really cool. But then I tried an iPhone, and a year later Android, and almost universally LOL’ed at BlackBerry’s existence ever since.
But BlackBerry running full Android? Ok, I’m listening.
BlackBerry’s mantra has always been that its phones are built for work, for security, for mashing out a few more words-per-minute with that hardware keyboard. I mean, just look at this video:
Phew. That’s a lot of suits.
But here’s the thing, BlackBerry makes great products. The software is behind the times, but the hardware has always been great. And importantly, different. Black and chrome is BlackBerry’s calling card, and frankly, it works. Right now, when there’s still a) a small but vocal populace that wants hardware keyboards, and b) an increasingly agitated populace that wants small phones. BlackBerry could deliver something that’s truly different than any other smartphone out there. It just needs to ditch its horrible OS to get there.
With so many companies relying on new business tools like Slack or even up-to-date ways of accessing their Outlook email, your smartphone needs to have those apps. That really isn’t up for debate, and even with the Amazon App Store and BB World Voltron-ing onto BlackBerry’s existing smartphones, that app selection still falls short. And with it, BlackBerry’s entire argument about being business-centric.
As for security, well, it’s true that BB has always crushed Android. But after Google’s introduction of Android for Work, a service that makes Android more work-friendly and secure, that security gap is narrower than ever before. And now that BB is working with Android to augment that security, sticking with the sinking ship that is BB10 just doesn’t make sense anymore.
So, why not Android on a BlackBerry phone? That idea is exciting. I mean, come on, when was the last time an Android phone from a major technology company included anything as cool as the BlackBerry Passport’s keyboard, the one that doubled as a mouse?
In my review of the BlackBerry Classic, I wrote this:
Three app stores. That’s how many you need to make this thing even usable. Even then, you’ll probably just use the sideloaded Snap store afterward, which begs the question: “Why don’t you just buy an Android smartphone?”
Now that it looks like BlackBerry is realising its mistake and fixing this nonsense, I can’t help but be kind of anxiously excited. (Oh, and our reviews editor Sean Hollister says he’d kill for a nice small high-end Android phone with a good physical keyboard again.)
But don’t get me wrong, a BlackBerry Android smartphone could still be crap.
There are many ways BlackBerry could completely botch its entry into Android. They could use some nasty clone of Android (like Amazon’s Fire Phone), atrociously skin the thing, or fill it up with carrier bloat (if the phone even comes to many carriers at all). But the reason why so many Android makers use skinning and bloatware is to differentiate from one another. BlackBerry already has that covered on the hardware side of things. So they could (and hopefully will) run stock Android, or at the very least, something that’s close.
I’m genuinely excited when companies bring new and different ideas to Android. Like when YotaPhone made that weird e-ink back or when Blackphone basically tried to make an end-to-end encryption machine. They might be a bit crap, but I like the risk. Differentiation is one of the operating system’s greatest strengths, and now BlackBerry is in a position where it needs to take that kind of risk.
Maybe this is the one that will finally let BlackBerry enjoy some success again.