Rumors have ramped up about a new smartphone known as the BlackBerry (BBRY) Venice, but with the huge twist that this might actually be an Android BlackBerry.
Reuters started the speculation back in June, then tipster Evan Blass posted a render of the sleek looking device on Twitter (TWTR). Adding fuel to the fire, CEO John Chen appeared on CNBC and seemed to confirm the company was open to releasing an Android BlackBerry.
“We only build secure phones, and BlackBerry is the most secure phone. So, if I can find a way to secure the Android phone, I will also build that.”
Of course, BBRY already has Android BlackBerry devices on the market — at least in a manner of speaking. Back in January, the company announced a partnership with Amazon (AMZN) that would see devices running BlackBerry 10 to download and run Android apps from the Amazon AppStore.
BlackBerry Venice appears to be a very different situation, a smartphone that is actually powered by Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Android operating system instead of using BB10 and running Android apps in emulation.
If true, in effect this would turn BlackBerry into yet another Android OEM, and it’s tough to see the opportunity in that.
The BlackBerry Venice appears to be the sleek slider-phone with a curved edge display BBRY was teasing at Mobile World Congress in 2015. The render making the rounds is certainly attractive, but an Android BlackBerry would face a brutal market.
It would be going up against the likes of Samsung (SSNLF) — who dominates the high end of Android smartphone sales (and is practically the only company making money selling Android phones) — surging Chinese competitors like Xiaomi and a slew of consumer electronics giants who are barely hanging on with selling smartphones.
Then there’s the question of what happens with the Amazon partnership with BB10. If the BlackBerry Venice is running Google’s Android, having some of its devices able to access Google Play and some stuck with the Amazon AppStore will be confusing.
With its hardware sales continuing to fall, BBRY may be looking at a “Hail Mary” move to stay relevant as a smartphone manufacturer. Maybe John Chen can pull it off this time, and an Android BlackBerry with a physical slider keyboard and dual curved display will make waves.
Maybe. If not, the BlackBerry Venice may end up being the latest in a string of flops for BBRY.
Let’s take a look at some of BlackBerry’s errant attempts at hardware innovation.
Failed BlackBerry Hardware: BlackBerry Storm
With the Apple (AAPL) iPhone proving wildly successful, BlackBerry (then known as Research in Motion) tried to fight back with the BlackBerry Storm.
Former co-CEO of BlackBerry Jim Balsillie has singled out the Storm as the disaster that led to BlackBerry losing its smartphone lead.
Released in 2008, the Storm was the first BlackBerry device to drop the physical keyboard, perhaps contributing to its failure. The BlackBerry Storm was rushed to market (yet still several months late), buggy, slow and suffered high customer returns.
The Storm sets a very low bar for the BlackBerry Venice to hurdle.
Failed BlackBerry Hardware: BlackBerry PlayBook
When Apple’s iPad suddenly opened a market for tablet computers, BlackBerry felt the need to compete in order to protect its enterprise dominance. (Anyone seeing a theme yet?)
The BlackBerry Playbook used decent enough hardware, but required a new operating system (developed by QNX, a company acquired by BBRY) and initially lacked key features like support for native BlackBerry e-mail.
The results were disastrous.
Sales soon slid, the PlayBook was discounted, apps failed to materialize, plans to port BB10 to the device were dropped, and BBRY had to take huge write-downs on the tablet before finally abandoning it.
Failed BlackBerry Hardware: BlackBerry Z10 Failed?
In a way, the BlackBerry Venice most resembles the Z10 in terms of the company stepping out of its comfort zone.
An all-touchscreen device and the first to run BlackBerry’s new BB10 operating system, the Z10 was expected to kick off a resurgence when released in 2013.
Instead, both consumers and enterprise customers largely ignored it, the rush to upgrade from older BlackBerry devices failed to happen, and iPhone and Android users wanted nothing to do with it.
BBRY ended up taking a $965 million loss in one quarter alone, with the disastrous Z10 shouldering almost the entire blame. If the wants any hopes of survival, the BlackBerry Venice will need to do a lot better than the Z10 did.
Failed BlackBerry Hardware: BlackBerry Q10
While the Z10 was a huge risk, the BlackBerry Q10 was seen as a safe bet for luring BlackBerry diehards into upgrading and adopting the modern BB10 operating system.
BlackBerry went back to its roots. Unlike the Z10, the Q10 had the physical QWERTY keyboard that has been so popular with BlackBerry users.
However, the display was too small to comfortably run BB10, apps were lacking and the keyboard dropped several navigation keys and the trackpad that were present in classic BlackBerry devices.
Hardcore users noticed and stayed far away. As a result, the Q10 was a “complete and utter commercial flop.”
If something as relatively straightforward as the Q10 failed to resonate with BBRY customers, it’s tough to see how a device as dramatically different as the BlackBerry Venice is rumored to be will succeed.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.