Beleaguered smartphone manufacturer BlackBerry could go Android with its next device, abandoning development of its own platform in the interest of getting a more robust ecosystem of apps into the hands of its few remaining users, according to a report from Reuters.
Citing anonymous sources, the news agency said that the idea is to transform BlackBerry into a software and services company, centered on the existing BES12 mobility management system designed to work across Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices, in addition to BlackBerry’s own. (Read the full Reuters report here.)
The first Android-powered BlackBerry, according to Reuters, could be a hybrid smartphone that can be used either with a regular touchscreen or with a slide-open physical keyboard. That device, which BlackBerry teased at this year’s Mobile World Congress without mentioning its OS, may be set for release this fall.
BlackBerry OS 10, the company’s own mobile operating system, has failed to recapture the market share lost to Android and iOS over the past half-decade. Based on the real-time QNX operating system, which BlackBerry acquired in 2010, BBOS 10 has even integrated Android app compatibility (technically, Amazon.com's Fire OS version of Android apps) in recent versions in an attempt to address the relative lack of native apps available for the platform.
A switch to Android doesn’t come close to solving all of the company’s problems -- becoming just another non-Samsung Android device maker isn’t necessarily the best place to be. But neither is it a meaningless gesture, since natively running Android would be a substantial step up for BlackBerry users, and Android’s open-source nature means that BlackBerry could graft its own enterprise-focused features onto the OS.
As the Reuters report highlights, BlackBerry has already been trying to make those enterprise features platform-agnostic, working to integrate its security, communication, and productivity tools into other operating systems, and even into rival security products like Samsung Knox.
However, much of BlackBerry's security advantage relies on its specialized hardware capabilities, which other manufacturers' devices don't have -- limiting what BlackBerry can do on other devices to what pretty much any mobile management tool can do.
Still, becoming more closely tied to one of the two dominant mobile platforms can only help the first ruler of the smartphone market maintain some of its relevance into the future.
This story, "Report: BlackBerry’s next devices could run Android" was originally published by Network World.