It’s fair to say that BlackBerry has been struggling a bit in recent times. After initially being a leading light in the smartphone arena a few years ago and the darling of many business users, it has since seen its main competitors go on to take control of the market.
The likes of Apple and Samsung are selling more phones than ever and are now – and have been for some time – the dominant forces in a world that BlackBerry is struggling to still be a part of. A report from last year said that Apple now enjoys a 34.1 per cent share of the UK smartphone market, with Android leading the way on 53.2 per cent and BlackBerry bringing up the rear with 1.2 per cent.
But don’t give up all hope just yet. The Canada-based company has finally decided to do away with its own beleaguered OS and has created an Android device in the shape of the BlackBerry Priv. The questions is, is it all too little too late?
When the BlackBerry Priv was first announced by CEO John Chen (at the same time as the company revealed disappointing financial results for Q2 2015 which included a £44 million loss) many people were happy to hear that BlackBerry had finally seen sense and jumped into bed with Android.
Then, when the first pictures were released a few days later, it actually looked pretty good. It appeared relatively thin and had kept hold of the traditional hardware keyboard, that distinguishes BlackBerry from other smartphone makers and ensures its popularity with business users, though it now slides neatly away when not needed. Some of this early optimism was negated somewhat when Chen gave a rather awkward and bumbling demo of the device, but we’ll put that down to him just having a bad day.
In terms of its specs, the BlackBerry Priv features a 5.4-inch display with a 1,440 x 2,560 pixel resolution, a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB of RAM, an 18-megapixel rear camera and a 3,410 mAh battery. Now, that all seems fine on the face of things, but with a £580 price tag at launch it was clear that despite the improvements, this device was still going to struggle against many of the other smartphones available. Not surprising that prices have been cut and shopping around now will get you a Priv for under £400.
BlackBerry has always been keen to stress the security of its devices and the main aspects of the Priv that BlackBerry is touting are privacy and security ('Priv' apparently stands for 'privacy'). At the initial announcement of the device, Chen said: “Priv combines the best of BlackBerry security and productivity with the expansive mobile application ecosystem available on the Android platform.”
A blog post further highlighted the emphasis on privacy and security, saying: “Because it’s Powered By Android, Priv will also deliver the largest choice in apps and the most secure experience possible to the widest audience. Priv users will enjoy choice, innovation, security, privacy AND productivity. In other words, no compromises.”
From an enterprise point of view, this is exactly what CEOs will want to hear as the issues of user privacy and securing confidential company data continue to dominate conversations. BlackBerry has always placed a high priority on privacy and security – as shown by its £280 million acquisition of Good Technology – and the Priv certainly takes things to another level.
In a blog post, director of BlackBerry Security Alex Manea explained what makes the Priv so secure. He wrote about BlackBerry’s ‘Hardware Root of Trust’ which refers to the introduction of cryptographic keys to the device hardware at a fundamental level, the presence of Verified Boot and Secure Bootchain technology and the new DTEK application which performs tasks such as app monitoring and provides recommendations on how to improve privacy levels.
On its launch, the BlackBerry Priv seemed like it might be the company’s last chance in the smartphone market, with its security credentials giving the company its last shot at regaining some of its former glory. Since then though the company has also launched the DTEK50 - a more conventional touchscreen Android phone but offering many of the Priv's security features - so it may be a little soon to write BlackBerry off just yet.