Why BlackBerry’s Android-powered Priv is a big deal


That might as well be the bumper sticker on BlackBerry CEO John Chen’s car. Chen has confirmed that the once dominant BlackBerry will soon release its first smartphone that runs Google’s Android software, rather than the company’s homegrown — and troubled — BlackBerry OS.

Long celebrated and staunchly defended for its privacy and security controls, especially with corporate software protections, BlackBerry has struggled along a path cleaved in two: to reach out to the everyday phone user or to the business user? This identity crisis in the face of exploding iPhone and Android sales ultimately led to BlackBerry’s tailspin in global sales, and to a series of CEO handoffs as the company’s influence further diminished.

After continuing to doggedly release poorly-received phones, a turn to Android now is part of a last-ditch effort to regain a sliver of the company’s faded relevance, while continuing to focus on privacy. Here’s what we know (or think) about the Priv so far.CEO Chen tells us that Priv stands for “privacy” and “privilege,” but not in the Occupy Wall Street way. Rather, the privilege to maintain privacy. Sounds like a stretch, but we get the point.

Unfortunately, BlackBerry hasn’t detailed yet just how it’s going to accomplish the task, so that solution is up in the air. Likely, they’ll build BlackBerry 10 software for remote wiping, encryption, and separating work and personal profiles on top of the Android OS.

BlackBerry would likely continue to sell companies subscriptions to its BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), which is software that helps keep phones private and secure. Samsung, meanwhile, has spun up its Knox security software for corporates, and Apple and IBM work together to safeguard business apps for iPhone. Other handsets, like the Silent Circle Blackphone 2 and crowdfunded Turing Phonealso aim squarely at security-minded folksThe Priv starts with a curved, 5.5-inch display and has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. From the images we seen (above) and the in-person demo Chen gave (below), the keyboard appears fairly slim, so it can tuck into the Priv without adding weight and bulk.Already a tall phone, it’ll be interesting to see how the Priv handles with the QWERTY in full use.Apps are one reason that BlackBerry is giving its own OS the heave-ho, at least for this pilot phone. BlackBerry failed to court enough app developers, despite prolonged attempts to make Android apps easy to port. CEO Chen said in the video above “I think that everybody loved the BlackBerry 10, they really do, but there’s not enough apps.”

As an Android phone, the Priv would have the full weight and breadth of the Google Play store at its disposal, as well as Google’s excellent maps and navigation app, and Google Now. It isn’t clear if the Priv will run on Android 6.0 Marshmallow at launch; the demo would have run an earlier version since Google only last week made the OS available to device-makers.BlackBerry has so far kept mum on the details, apart from Chen’s assurance that it has “the latest Qualcomm specs and the cameras and other good stuff.” So really, other than understanding that the Priv has high-end aspirations, its specs could fall in a range.

I’d expect to see the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor with eight cores, and at least a 13-megapixel camera on the back (high-end right now ranges from 13-megapixels up to 21). For the front-facing camera, 5 megapixels or 8 megapixels would fit right in to top-tier competitors.

BlackBerry Priv
You’ll be able to pop out the Priv’s keyboard for composing longer messages.BlackBerry

In the smartphone space, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB of internal storage are typical options. However, since the Leap capped off at 16GB while the Passport included 32GB, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a 64GB Priv. In addition, 4GB of RAM would be considered high these days.

In the past, BlackBerry phones have included microSD card slots if you want to add extra storage, but its batteries don’t pop out.

Pricing and availability

The phone is coming before this year’s holiday season, that we know. And that’s really all we know. BlackBerry phones have long levied higher costs, because of the premium the company places on both its physical keyboard and security software. I’d put the Priv in the $500 to $600 price range, which converts to £330 or £400 and AU$700 or AU$850.

The major question that remains is if BlackBerry will target the Priv to individuals or to companies. For that answer, we’ll need to wait and see.