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It’s too early to tell if BlackBerry’s Android Priv smartphone will save the company’s hardware division, but the few crumbs of evidence we’ve seen so far are encouraging. And the first victim of this potential success will be the company’s own platform, BlackBerry 10.
Until the beginning of this week, I didn’t know if that would be the case. The company has taken great pains to assure the millions of loyal fans who have sworn by BB10 – even if the general public has not – that their mobile operating system is alive and well and no has not been abandoned.
Last year, BlackBerry went out of its way to jot down Priv’s original announcement with another seemingly unrelated piece of its roadmap for a future upgrade to BB10.
But during an interview at CES, CEO John Chen said something that changed everything: in response to a series of questions from CNET, he acknowledged that the company only plans to launch Android hardware for the rest of 2016 (not many, though, just a phone or two).
When pressed by CNET on whether this meant the end of BB10, Chen responded in a way that simultaneously gave some fans new hope, while convincing others that their worst fears had come true.
According to CNET,
Chen also hopes the Priv will help improve the viability of the company, fix the brand and eventually make it possible to produce another phone running BlackBerry 10, although he said it was too early to say. talk about these plans.
At first glance, this statement seems hopeful: a successful Android experience could also breathe new life into the BlackBerry OS. But put under a microscope, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where such a series of events could actually occur.
An unlikely savior
BlackBerry 10, while beloved by die-hard fans of the company, did not help the company’s fortunes. The chart below shows how BlackBerry performed when BB10 was the only platform available to consumers. The results weren’t just poor, they just got worse.
Are we really supposed to believe that once the company finds a winner in Android, after so many years in the wasteland, it will go back to making the exact same kind of devices that drove the hardware division to the brink of extinction in the first place?
There are undoubtedly BB10 supporters within the company who would love to develop new QNX-powered handsets, just as there are fans who would love to buy them. However, it defies business logic that a for-profit company would be willing to divert resources from a profitable business to a historically unprofitable one.
An app debacle
Leveraging Android’s success to support BB10 just isn’t a realistic path, and in fact, I’d say BlackBerry is being somewhat irresponsible in giving fans the impression that might be the case.
One of the biggest issues repeatedly cited by business executives and handset owners is the lack of a healthy BB10 app ecosystem. In fact, Chen stirred up a bit of controversy in early 2015 when he issued an open call for so-called application neutralitythe rather outlandish idea that developers should be required to ensure that their software is compatible with all major platforms.
As if the app situation wasn’t dire enough, now that developers know that 2016 will be devoid of any new BlackBerry 10 hardware, what do you think their reaction will be? Will they continue to develop new apps and continue to support and update existing titles?
Certainly not. In revealing 2016’s focus on Android and Android alone, Chen telegraphed a very clear message to the remaining BB10 dev community: don’t waste your time here. Use your talents to develop products for future platforms. We’ll call you in 2017 (or beyond) if we need you.
But that last bit just isn’t going to happen; mobile platforms aren’t well suited for cold storage – you can’t cryogenically freeze your OS and expect to resurrect it at a later date. Once the door was slammed, it was impossible to open it again.
The fan riddle
So what’s a BlackBerry fan to do? I did a (decidedly unscientific) poll on Twitter to try and get a better feel for the fan community. The good news for BlackBerry is that the overwhelming majority of voters seem to care more about the company than its platform: more than two-thirds of respondents would rather see a healthy Android hardware division than any new device. of the company at present. everything, period.
[POLL] BlackBerry fans: Which of these scenarios do you prefer for the future of the hardware division?
— Evan Blass (@evleaks) January 7, 2016
However, this minority of one third is not negligible. These are people who will probably never buy an Android device from BlackBerry; for all intents and purposes, these are lost customers. Worse, they leave the fold with a bad taste in their mouths, and probably do not hesitate to express their dissatisfaction. Once the biggest fans of the BlackBerry OS, it’s pretty easy to see this demographic turn into the company’s most vocal critics.
It’s not a great situation if you’re a BlackBerry, but I think at some point the company owes its fans and supporters some closure on the fate of BB10. Instead of filling some people with false hope and others with exasperation, while confusing the market, it should internally formulate an honest assessment of BB10’s current state, clearly conveying the outcome to its base. of fans.
Many developers have dedicated some of the best years of their mobile lives to an ever-evolving platform. The current ambiguity is doing them a disservice, and in the long run, I think even the most disappointed BB10 enthusiasts will respect BlackBerry far more for proactively providing a candid, un-sweetened briefing on what lies ahead.
As this article was about to go to press, John Chen coincidentally published an article on the Inside BlackBerry blog titled “Showing our commitment to BlackBerry 10 at CES 2016.” In what has become something of a pattern, Chen discusses the upcoming dot version updates for BB10 (10.3.3 and 10.3.4) as proof that the company hasn’t abandoned its customers.
But again, absent from this – and other BB10 status reports – there’s no indication of the hardware side of the equation, a critical piece of the puzzle for fans and developers alike. After the roller coaster they’ve been through, they deserve better.
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