Why BlackBerry’s first Android phone is doomed to fail

Sahil Mohan Gupta
Sahil Mohan GuptaJan 29, 2016 | 19:01

Why BlackBerry’s first Android phone is doomed to fail

A couple of months ago something strange happened. BlackBerry announced a phone called the "Priv". Interestingly, this phone became the beleaguered Canadian smartphone manufacturer’s first Android phone. It also came with a classic QWERTY keyboard, something BlackBerry loyalists have wanted for a very long time.

The Priv, which was launched in India on Thursday for a not-so-subtle Rs 62,990, is pretty much a dead duck despite running on Android and having a QWERTY keyboard. It may sound a little surprising to a few, but there are some very strong market forces at play, which will likely ensure it doesn’t do well.

Too little too late

The Canadian manufacturer has reverted to Android too late in the day. People have been pandering to the BlackBerry keyboard and Android for years, and BlackBerry has responded with a device when its brand is almost irrelevant in the mobile space.

More importantly, gone are the days where the BlackBerry Curve could be found in every nook and cranny. People are more than comfortable with the glass screen and a virtual keyboard. They have moved beyond the hardware keyboard. There will be a few takers for it.

Android without its advantages

BlackBerry says that the Priv is the most secure Android phone in the market. It is as secure as its own BB10 operating system owing to its modifications. At the same time, BlackBerry has robbed Android of its flexibility, which makes it popular. For example, on the Priv, users can’t install custom launchers, which all other Android phones support.

An average BlackBerry

In a rush to add some key BlackBerry functionalities, the Priv has a set of signature BlackBerry experiences on Android. But these appear more like afterthoughts and are seemingly shoehorned on top of Android for the sake of differentiation.

Even if you look at the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), which was very popular a couple of years ago, it has fallen behind WhatsApp in terms of functionality. BBM users still can’t see if each and every recipient on a group has seen a message. Even the BlackBerry Hub hasn’t been integrated in a very well thought-out way.

Minimal differentiation

If you look at the hardware specifications of the BlackBerry Priv, it brings nothing new to the table. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 processor, 3GB RAM, a 5.4-inch screen and an 18-megapixel rear camera. These are hardware specifications that are common on every high-end phone.

In fact, phones costing lesser offer much more. Even in terms of software, it is running the outdated Android 5.0 Lollipop, which again is offered by every second Android phone in the market including some very cheap ones.

The price

At the press conference, there was a moment of silence when BlackBerry announced the ridiculous price of Rs 62,990 for the Priv. Reporters and bloggers were speechless and they knew it was a case of BlackBerry committing harakiri.

Now, the sales figures of the phone may prove me wrong, but at Rs 62,990, it is priced higher than even the iPhone 6S, which itself is struggling to justify the price.

Wonder what will happen to the BlackBerry Priv. It’s well and good to play up the security and privacy card, but in this world where employees have embraced the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomena, the BlackBerry Priv will be hard to sell especially at the price. Most people would prefer an iPhone instead.

Last updated: January 30, 2016 | 13:58
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