A year ago this week, hundreds of global press gathered in downtown Manhattan with cautious hope in their hearts. On 30 January 2013, BlackBerry 10 finally arrived: The all-new, modern multitasking OS that could save the former smartphone leader.
That didn't happen, of course: BlackBerry's US market share officially hit zero this week. The past year has been nothing but bad news for the company. It had to write off nearly a billion dollars’ (£600 million) worth of unsold Z10 phones. Its long-awaited, keyboarded Q10 got mediocre reviews (though we rather liked it). The 5in Z30 phone couldn't get a single US carrier to pick it up; that's a long way from the days when the BlackBerry Curve dominated every American carrier's smartphone line-up.
With BlackBerry 10 bottoming out at one year old, will it see two? Maybe not, but that doesn't mean BlackBerry is dead. The company has one last chance to switch to Android before it's totally irrelevant, and it looks like new CEO John Chen's BlackBerry just might do that.
BlackBerry's Android secret
Just in time for the first anniversary, BlackBerry OS 10.2.1 was rolled out to the company's few stalwart faithful. That OS release had a secret feature which BlackBerry left out of its release notes and documentation: The ability to finally run Android apps without all that wrapper rigmarole.
BlackBerry has been approaching this point for quite some time. From the start, BlackBerry 10 had the ability to run Android apps if they were processed through BlackBerry's "BAR wrapper" system. This required some knowledge of app development – it wasn't for consumers to do – but it quickly pumped up the number of apps in the operating system’s store.
Now you can run the Amazon Appstore on BlackBerry 10 phones. The phones don't have Google services – yet – but they're getting closer and closer to being the enterprise-friendly, secure Android devices that they probably should be.
BlackBerry's lack of desire to trumpet this feature shows the company's discomfort with giving up control of BlackBerry 10. Remember, BlackBerry has been an integrated firm with complete control of its OS and hardware since it was founded. But new CEO John Chen's move to shift manufacturing to Foxconn, combined with the Android support in 10.2.1, tells me that BlackBerry may become the premier secure Android platform provider.
BlackBerry doesn't need to set its sights on fighting Samsung's or LG's hardware businesses; rather, it needs to set its sights on Samsung Knox and other business management solutions for Android. Android is the world's most-used smartphone OS, but it's known in IT departments for insecurity, inconsistency, and vulnerability to malware.
Future BlackBerry handsets could very well be locked-down, pre-secured Android devices that work well with the huge world of Android apps, but require very little twiddling from IT departments to fit easily into a secure workplace.
BlackBerry's QNX OS, the heart of BlackBerry 10, can yet live on. As a well-established embedded OS, it positions BlackBerry well for separate businesses in automotive and the "Internet of Things."
But the market has spoken: For consumers, BlackBerry 10 just isn't a thing. It's barely made it to the age of one. In its current form, I don't see it hitting two.