Can we all finally admit that BlackBerry is dead as a smartphone maker? Every one of its savior devices -- the BlackBerry Z10, Q10, Passport, Classic, and now Priv -- has been a failure. Some, like the Z10, were good devices. Some were weird, like the Passport. And one, the new Priv, doesn't even run the BlackBerry OS, only an outdated version of Android.
CEO John Chen has publicly stated that if the new Priv doesn't do well, BlackBerry will exit the smartphone business. It's clear that BlackBerry has already abandoned its own BlackBerry OS, given utter lack of user interest in BlackBerry OS 10 (ironically, not a bad mobile OS).
It's now clear the Priv's Android pivot won't work. Reviews of prerelease Priv models say it's a bad device, yet another disappointment from BlackBerry.
Ars Technica lays out the flaws very well, even though it tries to be kind about them: poor picture quality, poor battery life, poor audio, uncomfortably hot operating temperature, an odd flex in its casing as you grip it, and the inability to protect your data privacy. Gizmodo covers most of the same ground, but not so kindly.
There's no excuse for this -- Android hardware is mature and there's no reason for screwing that up at the Priv's $699 price.
Engadget laments that the keyboard feels like it came from 2008, which was probably the intent, given the last successful BlackBerry device -- the Bold -- debuted that year. Some people have been complaining about onscreen keyboards since the iPhone's debut in 2007, but the fact is that 99.7 percent (seriously) of smartphones purchased today use them, so that criticism isn't real-world. Trust me, if people really wanted physical keyboards -- which are slower and don't adapt to device rotation -- they'd be commonplace. They're not.
The Priv's privacy woes are simply unforgivable for a smartphone sold as an aid to privacy and privilege (as in secure, privileged access). All BlackBerry had to do was use the new Android 6.0 Marshmallow version, which has decent app privacy controls, instead of the previous Android 5.1 Lollipop that BlackBerry uses on the Priv.
The Dtek app that comes with the Priv is BlackBerry's purported answer to privacy protection. Dtek tracks which apps violate your privacy such as by pulling in your contacts or turning on your microphone, and even alerts you when they do. But it won't block such privacy invasions. Marshmallow can.
Yes, the dwindling band of BlackBerry fans will cite the device's high-end specs; never mind they are not exceptional for this price nor well deployed in the device. They will cite the ability to run Android apps, which of course any Android smartphone can do. They will cite the slide-out keyboard and touchpad, which surely appeal to the folks who still pine for a physical keyboard -- but who didn't buy the Q10 or Classic or the Android smartphones of yore that had them. And they will cite the security improvements BlackBerry has made to its Android device, which are equivalent to the ones Samsung has already made in the Galaxy S6 and the iPhone has long had.
Some reviewers like -- or least don't dislike -- the Priv. But they tend to skew positive in all their reviews, so those opinions don't mean so much.
The truth is BlackBerry simply isn't trying any more. Chen already knows that and has been preparing folks to see BlackBerry exit the smartphone market. "Well, we really tried," he'll say next spring or summer, though the real trying ended in 2012 once the BlackBerry Z10 work was completed.
I'm sure BlackBerry will still manufacture its old BlackBerry 7 devices periodically to replenish those used by government agencies and defense contractors, but those users had better start thinking about alternatives. They'll need them soon.
Maybe BlackBerry the company will hang on as a mobile management vendor, but I don't think so, since its own BES11 offering (based on the 2011 acquisition of Ubitexx) flopped and the replacement it bought this year, Good Technology, was already struggling and is likely to continue to do so against Microsoft, MobileIron, and VMware.
Its QNX business for embedded systems that it bought in 2010 is a viable but small business that may be all that survives of BlackBerry. Maybe even BlackBerry's specialized security groups, like Secusmart, Movirtu, and WatchDox, will also survive as a niche provider.
But it's for sure time to bury the BlackBerry smartphone.
For the record, the BlackBerry Priv can now be ordered from BlackBerry's website after months of leaks and teases; AT&T also sells a version that works only on its network. The versions compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile are scheduled to ship on Nov. 23. There's still no ETA for versions compatible with Verizon, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular, though Verizon says it will sell the Priv at some point.