The difference between a BlackBerry-made Android smartphone and every other Android smartphone was just erased.
Waterloo, Ont.-based BlackBerry Ltd. is allowing the suite of BlackBerry applications that have served as differentiators between its Priv and DTEK50 devices and other Android phones be licensed for any device running Android 6.0 Marshmallow, the company announced on Wednesday.
The software licencing platform for BlackBerry’s Mobility Solutions business include the BlackBerry Hub+, which includes the unified inbox that has been a key marketing feature of BlackBerry devices since the launch of BlackBerry 10, and a launcher that lets users program their Android home screen and navigation to behave in the same way current BlackBerry devices do.
Also included in the newly unleashed software is BlackBerry’s Calendar, Password Keeper, Contacts, Tasks, Notes, and Device Search applications.
In short, any owner of a modern Android phone can now transform their device into a “BlackBerry” by installing the suite. For Sanjay Khanna, senior analyst of Canadian mobile business applications and services at IDC, it’s a smart move.
“At a lot of companies there’s been a switch to Samsung devices, so it allows BlackBerry to keep its brand imprint in the enterprise,” he says. “It’s a good way to maintain brand recognition with those key decision makers by giving them a differentiator on their devices.”
BlackBerry just released a new handset – its second Android device – the DTEK50, and industry watchers expect it to launch two more Android devices before the end of its 2016 fiscal year. CEO John Chen says that if the company hasn’t achieved profitability in the handset business by then, it will axe the division to focus on software solutions.
“The new software reflects concerns about their place in the handset business,” Khanna says. “It’s about spreading their bets.”
This move may be a taste of what BlackBerry will look like in a world where it’s not in the hardware business anymore. On the Inside BlackBerry blog, writer Eric Lai describes the news as “a natural move” that will help the company grow its software business.
“It fulfills our promise to make the fruits of decades of R&D and software development as widely available to users of other devices and other platforms as possible,” he says.
BlackBerry Hub+ Services is now available for download on Google Play. Users receive a 30-day free trial, after which they can continue to use the suite if they agree to view occasional ads, or pay 99 cents per month to get it ad-free.
To succeed, BlackBerry needs to win over some early adopters who go on to champion the software as an awesome experience, Khanna says. Given BlackBerry’s history and still-strong footprint in the enterprise mobility management space in Canada, there’s more of a chance it could take off here than in other markets.