back to article BlackBerry on Android? It makes perfect sense

Four months ago, BlackBerry announced it was porting key features of its BlackBerry OS software to Android and iOS – stuff like its onscreen keyboard, Universal Search, and the notification Hub. It was only a matter of time before word emerged of somebody actually grabbing this idea and running with it. The only surprise is …

  1. Innocent-Bystander*

    Free OS is the Problem

    Quote from the article:

    "Nobody outside China, except for Apple, makes money from making smartphones. Samsung lost a fortune last year. HTC has wiped out a year’s profits in just one quarter. And that’s when your operating system comes “for free.”"

    Therein lies the rub. When both the hardware and software are commoditized, it gets awfully hard to differentiate your offering. Sure there are skins from different manufacturers but they are both pulled over the same system.

    Apple's value proposition lies in its OS and the rest of the Mac ecosystem. Its hardware is just as much a commodity as Samsung's (arguably even more so) but they offer a substantially differentiated user experience that people are willing to pay for. While Apple is shameless in its pricing, their margins give you confidence that they will be around in 5 years to support the product and the ecosystem unlike me-too Android manufacturers (maybe with the exception of Samsung).

    Samsung and HTC are facing the same problem that PC manufacturers have for years: the hardware is now good enough that people can get off the upgrade treadmill and not notice much of a difference from year to year. We've been there since the Galaxy S4 and it shows on the numbers. Marketing expenses are blowing up and it's getting ever harder to shift the inventory. The S6 is a solid build so that might entice some to upgrade. HTC is in the same boat.

    Apple also has this problem. Now that their screen sizes caught up with the rest of the industry there aren't too many ways to make their next iPhone noticeably better than the 6.

    Ditto for Microsoft although they should have enough exposure to this problem through their PC business. They are also religious about keeping their old gear up to date so when they will give me a reason to upgrade my Lumia 920 is anyone's guess. But based on my experience with Windows phone and MS' commitment of keeping everyone up to date with the latest system; the other manufacturers would have to make a hell of a case for me to switch to a competing platform.

    The market has matured, now that the forest fire of smart phone adoption is dying down it'll be interesting to see how these companies keep up the volumes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Free OS is the Problem

      Seeing as Blackberry's primary focus and business driver has previously been security (at least until BB10 and it's significant number of vulnerabilities) surely putting anything on Android as by far the most insecure mobile platform (being built on the two vulnerability magnets of Java and Linux) is a disaster waiting to happen!

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Free OS is the Problem

        Let's roughly break it down: What does BlackBerry have:

        - Network

        - Software

        - QNX OS

        - BB UI

        - Hardware

        The Network and Software can be charged for, on any platform if needs be.

        BB 10 looks good, but how easy will maintaining compatibility with Android apps be in the future? Conversely, how difficult would it be for BB to bring their security to Android?

        The BB UI could be brought to Android.

        The BB hardware - the keyboards, basically - can be made Android compatible, or licensed out to Samsung et al.

    2. Mage Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re:Apple's value proposition lies in its OS

      No, Apple makes a profit purely because people will now pay a premium for Apple. Nothing to do with rounded corners or Mac ecosystem or iOS.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Free OS is the Problem

      "there aren't too many ways to make their next iPhone noticeably better than the 6"

      Rename it the 7. That should do the trick.

  2. PleebSmash
    Gimp

    relevant?

    What compelling feature does Blackberry's code offer that can't be found on stock Android/iOS/WinPhone?

    1. James 51

      Re: relevant?

      Off the top of my head:

      Atomised permissions that I can change at any time.

      It is not a platform to spy on me and then use that info to sell me stuff.

      It's not a crazy price.

      Using the OS is fast, fluid and doesn't treat me like an idiot.

      1. Captain Scarlet

        Re: relevant?

        @James 51

        One I have to add is I haven't felt the need to install apps to get basic functionality I expect from a device I want to use to use Email, Calendars and Phone.

    2. bazza Silver badge

      Re: relevant?

      BlackBerry Balance has no equal anywhere else. There are approximations, but because they're not part of the OS (they're layered on top) they cannot hope to fully emulate or be as nicely integrated as Balance.

      Of all the phones out there that claim to support Exchange, BB10 seems to be the most complete. iOS doesn't do To Dos, Android is pitifully (and deliberately) poor at talking to Exchange servers. AFAIK WinPhone barely talks to Exchange either, and that's coming from Microsoft...

      Also Blackberry's hardware and boot loader is properly designed from a security point of view. Security starts with the hardware, moves on to the boot loader and only then is the OS and apps involved (similarly on PCs, which is what Microsoft's secure boot for Windows 8 is all about). Get that wrong and its difficult for the OS and applications to be sure that their environment isn't being manipulated / debugged externally leaving them vulnerable. Apply also try hard to stop that kind of thing going on in their handsets (it's difficult to jailbreak and root them), and for all I know they have a signed boot process too. I'm not sure that Android phones have the same level of assurance...

      Blackberry Travel is brilliant, though Google are now seemingly going to try and copy it. No doubt they'll claim to have invented something marvellous, but only because they won't have bothered to take a look around to see what is already out there.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: relevant?

        "I'm not sure that Android phones have the same level of assurance..."

        Android devices can have signed boot processes (it's an option for certain families of ARM SoCs), but the reception for this is hit or miss. It's welcome in enterprise settings but for the prosumer it's frowned upon since one reason they pick Android is customization, which signed bootloaders tend to discourage (read up on things like S-ON and so on). I know when I picked the S4 I didn't take the plunge until I knew it could be rooted and customized significantly, and I've never regretted the ability to this day.

    3. dodo27

      Re: relevant?

      BlackBerry 10 o.s's design and patent superiority lies in

      -mulititasking.

      -hotkey shortcuts and qwerty navigation.

      -universal inboxes (hub). that can control emails, texts, instant messages, notifications and phone calls all in the same place

      - customization in the hub, quick settings and universal search.

      - Best typing experience on the market.

      - security.

      BlackBerry 10 o.s/qnx already has an android container that can run apps without effecting the workplace security on their phones. Users can install the google play store and a version of google play services on their BlackBerry 10 devices. Most apps work well straight away, but some apps that rely heavily on things like google maps need to be patched to work well. Process involves connecting the phone to your pc or mac. Installing a patcher. Choosing to patch that file and reinstalling on the phone. Takes a couple of minutes per app.

      BlackBerry will have to pay google a commission for google play services to work officially. The current setup is not consumer friendly.

      Not much point in BlackBerry producing a flagship all touch device without google play services.

  3. danR2

    Agree with the title, but...

    The body of the text could hardly be a more recondite defence of the thesis. So: Why does Blackberry on Android make perfect sense?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Agree with the title, but...

      Because everything's commodity hardware and software that reduces Blackberry's costs as close as possible to zero apart from Blackberry's special stuff which differentiates it which people would be willing to pay for.

      Not convinced myself, I think it would be like building a castle with foundations of sand.

      1. danR2

        Re: Agree with the title, but...

        It worked for Blackphone, which built on a modified Android base, with the backdoors stripped, and with a thoroughly vetted apps ecosystem. It's larger ecosystem, Silent Circle, won a significant award in a survey of secure systems and even surpassed Blackberry. Blackphone has never been successfully hacked in a real-world exploit demonstration, only by a blackout user who had to physically work with the phone: his OWN phone. And that 'vulnerability' was patched in short order.

        In brief, Android is inherently capable of the security already offered by BB. The trick is to get app-makers to comply with some rather stringent permissions requirements.

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Agree with the title, but...

          The problem with Blackphone is that it's just another non-mainstream platform. It may well have Android roots, but unless it hooks into Google Play Services and lets you run everything there is on the Google Store, people generally won't want it.

          Mainstream sells. Non-mainstream does not. Unless the mainstream gets serious about security, nothing good will happen on a wide scale. Apple aren't too bad, but have their failings. Google seemingly hardly care at all about what happens on Android handsets people actually own. Neither have a commercial incentive to do anything about it. Nor do the app developers; it's hard enough supporting maybe both iOS and Android, but to pander to something like Blackphone too just costs time and effort for very little reward. That's exactly the problem Blackberry have; technically pretty good, know one cares.

          I've said before that those whom really, really care about security (banks, governments, etc) have had a free ride on the Blackberry popularity wave. Now that Blackberry are less popular they're likely to discover that security costs. Without a mainstream consumer base to subsidise it that cost can become very high indeed. Like $billions.

          With there being no one single completely compelling alternative out there no one really knows what to buy. There's solutions out there that have good security but effectively amount to locked down handsets where you cannot install anything personal or fun. Might as well carry a second phone then. There's solutions out there that are more permissive but consequently have more questionable security. There's clunky solutions that let you swap between a secure and a personal instance of the OS, but that's hardly the unified convenient solution that we need. Booking a meeting in a calendar then becomes a chore.

          What everyone needs (even if they don't know it) is a proper, well developed multi-level security system in their mobile OS, not sticking plasters added on top. And there is one. It's called Blackberry Balance. But most IT people ignore that, probably because they don't know what a multi-level security system is or what it can do for them.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Agree with the title, but...

            "Mainstream sells. Non-mainstream does not."

            That doesn't mean you can find your niche and survive on it. That's why professional software can still turn a profit, in spite of the small audience, if it's the right software for the job such that the pros are willing to shell out for it. For years, BlackBerry survived by finding its niche in secure enterprise devices. It suffered from a combination of government interference and intrusion from the mainstream. I strongly suspect the niche is still there, it's just changed its shape and BlackBerry still has the potential to retake the niche and find its market again.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps...?

    BB should look at using comoddity h/w (Samsung S6...?) and porting their OS to it.

    Then the percived problems with updating Android or rather the lack thereof once your phone is more than 'n' months old would be sold. Sell the OS for a reasonable sum and promise 3-5 years of updates and I'm sure a lot of frustrated users who can't be half arsed (or just don't know about) to try loading cyanogen and the like would like it. Carry on with the Android App compatibility and all that and you never know, it might even be a success.

    Oh, wait, aren't most Android users real cheapskates when it comes to buying apps for their phone? (I'm not an Android or iOS user so I don't have an axe to grind here) If this is the case then the idea floated above might be somewhat flawed?

    Has BB's time come and gone?

  5. Shadow Systems

    Keep making physical keyboards!

    BB has always been geared to Professionals whom need to Get Shit Done rather than fashionistas whom flock to the newest & shiniest toy to hit the shelves. Don't try to be another Apple, stick to what made you great in the first place. A BB device, even if it runs some custom flavor of Android, will continue to sell to Professionals as long as it retains that physical keyboard. It's distinctive, it says "This is not a toy, it's a tool, and I'm a Professional whom knows how to use it."

    If you want to make a touch screen only keyboard model go ahead, but don't make it your flagship. Save that spot for the form factor & design that made you great. High end specs, user replaceable battery, dual SIM slots, an SD Card slot, good speakers, voice commands, & that physical keyboard will all blend together with BB10 to set BB apart from every other landfill device on the market. Go with that. Run with that. Make the most of it.

    Make it & we will buy it. Make it inexpensive & we'll not only bring BB up off the shoals of profitability but launch your butt into orbit on a tongue of incandescent flame.

    There are many people out there whom would buy a BB device if it had a physical keyboard, if for no other reason than there doesn't seem to be any competition in Android devices that have one. Touch screens are fine if you're a media consumer, not if you're a Professional whom needs to Get Shit Done. Email, meeting notes, calendar appointments, marking up schematics to collaborate in manufacturing, and all the other things that a physical keyboard will make infinitely easier for someone whom needs to GSD rather than fap about with a flaky touch screen keyboard that keeps thinking your touching one letter means you meant another; no, that physical letter button is the one I pressed, it's the one I meant, and oh look, it's the one that appeared on the screen. How quaint, a physical keyboard that Just Works and lets us GSD.

    So build it with a physical keyboard, slap a BB10 hardening layer on Android, & give me one. You'll have my money as soon as the phone hits my hand.

    1. keithpeter Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Keep making physical keyboards!

      @Shadow Systems

      " Touch screens are fine if you're a media consumer, not if you're a Professional whom needs to Get Shit Done. Email, meeting notes, calendar appointments, marking up schematics to collaborate in manufacturing, and all the other things that a physical keyboard will make infinitely easier for someone whom needs to GSD"

      I enjoyed your spirited defence of hardware keyboards on phones. I see two issues...

      Installed base working fine:

      My fairly ancient Bold 9000 can do all the things in your paragraph above with the exception of marking up diagrams (which task I personally would rather perform sitting at a device with a larger screen in a quiet well-lit room free of distractions). I can also drop the Bold down the stairs and sit on it accidentally without cracking the screen or the case unlike some makes of tough-screen device. There is a replaceable battery and a charge lasts several days depending on call frequency. What size is the replacement market?

      Motivation for buying new shiny devices:

      Is the (possibly saturating) market for small form-factor mobile devices not driven by shiny consumer oriented apps and bandwidth consumption? How would a distinctly work oriented device fit into that?

      The tramp: yes, I am a cheapskate

  6. AMBxx Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Starting to make more sense

    When I first read that BB were going to run Android, my first though was ugh. However, reading this, it's becoming clear that Android is just the underpinnings with a full BB layer on top. Makes a lot of sense.

    Best of luck to all at BB - the only phone company doing anything other than rectangular slabs of glass.

  7. Grade%

    Interesting conjecture.

    A case can be made, but in the end that case isn't particularly compelling. If that were to be the endgame then why bother at all with hardware? It would be simpler to get out of the device business altogether and allow whomever licenses the suites to provide the hardware and the engineers to bolt it together. It boils down to what additional value the OS has that can be extracted in other ways.

    BB10 is derived from the QNX and its embedded brethren is very much alive and well - as the Ford motor company can attest to having ditched a MicroSoft product for a commensurate product from BlackBerry (https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=blackberry+deal+with+ford). So, in my limited estimation I would hazard that QNX, née BB10, will continue to evolve and be refined -- with a high end device coming out every three or four years.

    But, and this is an interesting but, why not release an Android version as well? The horrors of fragmentation? What if it could be construed as a path toward, have people develop and interest in, the real BlackBerry experience? So, maybe the case is compelling after all. I, don't know, I can't see BlackBerry abandoning BB10 completely. What it needs to do, rather, is slowly gather enough steam to at some point reach a critical mass where developers (developers developers (sorry)), are enticed by the potential returns from a rabid audience starving for decent apps to fling money at.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Interesting conjecture.

      "A case can be made, but in the end that case isn't particularly compelling. If that were to be the endgame then why bother at all with hardware? It would be simpler to get out of the device business altogether and allow whomever licenses the suites to provide the hardware and the engineers to bolt it together. It boils down to what additional value the OS has that can be extracted in other ways."

      Because it's going to take more than just slapping your UI on top of the Android kernel to make it properly hardened. One of BlackBerry's calling cards was that it was a system secure enough for proper enterprise use. As of now, baseline Android doesn't make the cut, but as noted by devices like the Blackphone, you CAN make it good enough if you get under the bonnet. So for BlackBerry to make a good Android device, it will have to do the same: be almost as picky as Apple when it comes to how the devices are built and the core software assembled so that it can properly pass the enterprise acid test.

  8. Dinsdale247

    I think this is a distraction. BB10 is QNX with a qt front end. This is good tech. My passport is a great device. The problem is marketing and perception. It's unfortunate.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Underlying quality vs perception vs cost vs?

      NT3.5 / NT 3.51 / NT 4.0 was FAR superior to the garbage Win95 & Win98 that was little more than all the 32 bit options and Explorer shell integrated to the 1993 level of WfWG 3.11 and rubbish graphics layer purely to make it easy to port DOS games to Win95.

      Virtually every ill, esp. Security was caused by porting / running the Win9x eco system into Win XP.

      The rot started with NT 4.0 GDI into kernel.

      That was MS competing with itself.

      QNX and QT might be the best Mobile OS and Shell ever, I don't know. But because it's not Apple's or Google's preferred platform, it's probably going to just be a niche or doomed.

      RiscOS on the Archimedes was a good ARM OS back in the day too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Underlying quality vs perception vs cost vs?

        "The rot started with NT 4.0 GDI into kernel."

        The GDI (as graphics are often performance critical) should ideally be in the kernel to lower the number of context switches and increase performance. The real issue at the time in doing this was many crap quality and poorly tested 3rd party display drivers. Microsoft eventually had to build their own driver certification suites and testing / certification process to force the manufacturers to fix it. These days it's pretty rare to see a hardware compatibility signed Windows driver crash...

  9. Mike 16 Silver badge

    BB UI without QNX is?

    Maybe a 30-year mil-spec epoxy paint job on a Yugo?

    Several people have made the point about bullet-proof hardware, but IMHO, the OS is a big part of what makes BB reliable. Ditch that, and you have lipstick on a pig. A cute, popular pig, but...

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: BB UI without QNX is?

      "A cute, popular pig, but..."

      Or a stout big-tusked boar like the Blackphone, unless you can prove otherwise...

  10. JeffyPoooh
    Pint

    I'm planning to buy a new washing machine...

    What embedded OS should I be looking for?

    Because obviously that's all that matters.

    1. Shadow Systems

      Re: I'm planning to buy a new washing machine...

      You want to get the one with the "Whale Tail" spoiler on the back, the ObnoxiousFartingBastard exhaust modification, spinning rims on Fifty Series tires, neon undercarriage accent lights, racing strips, a triple-barrel Turbo Charger racing air scoop up off the bonnet, Cat Whisker curb feelers at all four corners, about a thousand various "Go Faster" badges to slather around at random, and a stereo system loud enough to deafen dead people at a thousand KM & enough bass to pop them up out of their graves like slices of toast out a particularly feisty toaster.

      Don't forget to install the blue beam headlamps aimed at a point designed to blind oncomming drivers, strobing turn indicators in non standard colours & shapes, a scrolling marquis LCD strip across the rear window for sending messages to those poor sods behind you, a pair of Fuzzy Dice off the rear view mirror, a Bobbling Hula Girl statue affixed to the dash, license plate that reads "IGOFAST".

      Bonus points for littering the inside with fast food containers, spilled beer, used condoms, various bras & panties, and (fake) feet prints on the ceiling & insides of the windows.

      Oh, don't forget the giant red bottles of Nitros in chromed holders in the back window to advertise just how fast you can go, & a Big Red Button on the dash marked "NITRO!"

      (None of it has to actually WORK, it just has to LOOK cool.)

      You'll want the most bleeding-edge release of the car-to-car communications suite, complete with dodgy code that randomly reboots your car for no apparent reason, broadcasts your PII to everyone in a KM via WiFi, and constantly phones home to (Insert ThreeLetterAgency of choice) to let them know just what a naughty Chav you've been.

      You want the Siri integration so you can spend your driving attention screaming at the dash trying to get the tart to stop playing endless mash up loops of Adam Sandler's "Piece of Shit Car", rather than paying attention to where you've aimed the car.

      Oh, and don't forget to install plenty of cup holders. Gotta have cup holders. Chromed, with neon accent lights, that auto-chill the beverage & send an SMS to your phone when it's reached the optimum temperature to turn your crotch into a puddle of molten flesh no longer capable of Reproduction.

      Ahhhh Darwinism, gotta love it!

      =-)p

    2. Christian Berger

      Re: I'm planning to buy a new washing machine...

      As stupid as it may sound at first, but the choice of operating system on a washing machine tells you a lot about the mindset of the company making it. However keep in mind that even Android is a beacon in the night compared to many embedded operating systems.

      Consider of the actual complexity of the "washing machine control" problem and then consider the number of lines the logic would actually need, and then consider how the selected operating system fits into this.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: I'm planning to buy a new washing machine...

        Well, a washing machine, mechanically speaking, isn't entirely that complicated. You have a tub motor, a number of solenoid valves, maybe a pump or two and some sensors. The tricky stuff is choreographing the pieces to work together, but let's recall that just a few decades ago your average washing machine ran its programs on a cam cylinder and a bunch of microswitches (watch "The Secret Life of the Washing Machine"). What electronics have done is allow more varied control of the parts, but the parts haven't changed that much. Maybe the motor has more speeds to it and so on, but the basics are still there. What is it about a modern washing machine that gets all so complicated?

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