BlackBerry just announced it would be releasing a new slider phone running Android. It has been working for some time with Samsung to create a way to secure the Android platform, which up till now has been the most vulnerable, and with partners like Qualcomm, which has its own security initiatives coming out with the new 820 processor. The combination should address BlackBerry’s biggest problem, the lack of applications, and create a very unique phone, one that has the breadth of applications Android enjoys but the security and communications focus that are consistent with the BlackBerry brand.
Let’s talk about phones.
Currently, smartphones represent the biggest security exposure we’ll likely see at a device level this decade. This is because they don’t really have the performance headroom to run traditional security platforms and they have built in both microphones and cameras, which could be turned on remotely, effectively bugging the user and the firm or government agency they work for.
The most secure platform currently in the broad market is BlackBerry’s BlackBerry 10, but even with the ties to Amazon’s app store, it lacks the breadth of apps for most users. The end result is that these users are still bringing unsecure Android and Apple phones into otherwise secure environments.
Secure Android Phone
There are point products in market, like the Blackphone 2, that provide a more secure Android experience, but nothing from a major phone brand and nothing that can provide a BlackBerry-like keyboard phone, at least not at the moment.
The end result is that this provides an opportunity for BlackBerry to create a showcase phone that blends what it has learned on hardware with what it is providing in software and services to create an Android offering in volume that will be secure enough for all but the most secure environments.
For those, there still will be a few BlackBerry 10 devices, which will trade off application support for even higher security.
While the hardware in the phone hasn’t yet been announced, the timing of the device suggests that it will use Qualcomm’s coming Snapdragon 820 Smart Protect solution. This solution was designed from the ground up to be more secure with major components operating below the operating system to make sure a root kit type of malware can’t be installed undiscovered. In addition, this is the first major ARM solution to include behavioral analysis as part of the package so that the kind of exposure that was recently caught on Apple’s platform in China can’t be successfully executed on a new 820-based Android phone.
It will likely be the combination of Qualcomm’s security improvements with BlackBerry’s that will provide a blended benefit that should allow BlackBerry to support the claim that it has the most secure Android phone when it launches.
Praise for the Keyboard
One of the important parts of this phone will be a built-in keyboard. Those that remember BlackBerry phones know that this was their one greatest sustainable advantage. A keyboard phone is far faster with typing than a phone that uses a screen keyboard. Getting the design right, however, will be difficult because keyboards either increase the thickness/weight of the phone or, as with the BlackBerry Passport, reduce the screen size. Getting this phone so it is both thin enough and useful enough while assuring it is sturdy enough and not unattractive will be where the heavy lifting is done.
For a lot of us who became wedded to the keyboard, this could be a compelling phone if the tradeoffs in appearance, size and weight aren’t too great.
Wrapping Up: Demand a Safe Phone
The market needs a secure line of phones that have a competitive number of apps. Since you can’t license iOS and Windows 10 for the phone doesn’t yet have critical mass, this leaves Android, but only if it can be made secure. A combination of technologies from BlackBerry and Qualcomm can, on paper, address this problem nicely and add the keyboard that professionals used to prefer. If the result is attractively priced, looks nice, and is well marketed, this could be the breakout device for BlackBerry. Whether it is or not, I’d recommend not touching an Android phone that doesn’t at least have the Qualcomm 820 solution on it. There is no upside to an unsafe phone.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+