BlackBerry has nothing to lose by turning to Android
In 2009, BlackBerry was king of the smartphone world. The Canadian company was sitting atop the smartphone market with a staggering 50 percent market share in the United States; peaking at a 20.1 percent global share, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC).
Since then, both numbers have been steadily declining. Early last week comScore announced BlackBerry’s market share was a lowly 1.5 percent in the United States, with its global OS share no longer significant enough to warrant its own column in IDC reports.
Google’s (GOOGL) mobile operating system, Android, on the other hand, has seen a steady increase in market share over the same time frame. It currently sits atop the U.S. market with 52.2 percent and 78 percent share globally, according to the same report.
On the surface, beyond being competing platforms, it would seem Android and BlackBerry have very little to do with one another. But on Thursday, Reuters published a report citing anonymous sources who claim BlackBerry (BBRY) is considering launching a new device that runs Google’s Android software, instead of its own BlackBerry 10 operating system.
BlackBerry later told Fortune that it wouldn’t discuss the rumors. “We don’t comment on rumors and speculation, but we remain committed to the BlackBerry 10 operating system, which provides security and productivity benefits that are unmatched,” a BlackBerry spokesperson said via email.
The move wouldn’t be BlackBerry’s first brush with Android. When BlackBerry 10 launched in early 2013, it did so with the ability to run Android applications. Flirting with apps from another platform was an effort to boost the BlackBerry’s app catalog, which the company so desperately needs. However, the experience of using an Android app on a BlackBerry 10 device has been plagued by compatibility issues and ultimately failed to spur the developer support the company, and users, had so desperately hoped for.
The BlackBerry-Android hybrid device is rumored to look similar to the touch-screen, slide-out keyboard device BlackBerry briefly revealed at Mobile World Congress in March. The device would offer the tried-and-true BlackBerry keyboard experience devoted users still crave, while simultaneously providing a touch-based experience Android users now expect. Granted this picture doesn’t do the device justice, although one can’t help but think it would be awkward to use regardless.
Incidentally, at the same March event, BlackBerry also announced plans to release a suite of its core apps called the BlackBerry Experience Suite, further demonstrating the company’s realization it needs to look for users outside of its own ecosystem.
News that BlackBerry may join forces with Google on a new device isn’t surprising. I’ve long heard whispers that BlackBerry was working on an application that would transform any Android smartphone into something that looks and feels more like BlackBerry 10.
It’s possible as the company worked on the concept, the lack of control at the OS level—specifically pertaining to security features the company has long prided itself on—pushed the company to dive deeper and add a new operating system to its own devices instead.
If the rumors are proved true, the device would resolve a problem regarding lack of applications for BlackBerry 10 devices, especially if the company decided to include the Google Play Store.
At this point, there’s not much left for BlackBerry to lose, and everything to gain by adopting a platform that’s proven to attract users. Combine Android’s success with BlackBerry’s knack for making quality hardware, and it just might be the winning combination.
As the saying goes, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”