BlackBerry spent years trying to get make its in-house BlackBerry OS competitive with Android and iOS, but that venture seems to have failed. Then last year, the company finally did what it should have done long ago — it released an Android phone. The BlackBerry Priv was one of the most anticipated phones after months of leaks and rumors, but the device hasn’t been a smashing success. AT&T has admitted that the Priv just isn’t selling well and returns are higher than expected. So, what went wrong?
The Priv is unique in the Android ecosystem — it’s a modern flagship phone with a physical QWERTY keyboard. That’s something BlackBerry bet big on. Hardware keyboards used to be a common feature, but on-screen keyboards have improved dramatically, and consumers have adapted. In fact, with smarter autocorrect, predictions, emoji, and swipe input, I think on-screen keyboards are just faster than physical ones. That didn’t stop a very vocal minority from practically begging BlackBerry to release a keyboarded Android phone. It turns out those people were just more of a minority than anyone thought. According to AT&T, many Priv buyers were moving from other BlackBerry devices and the transition to Android was rough on them.
BlackBerry also sought to bring its security know-how to bear on Android, which has been the subject of several high-profile flaws and exploits in recent years. Blackberry implemented a number of features that businesses like, including verified boot, BES12, and a hardened Linux kernel. However, it’s not dramatically more secure than other Android devices, and that’s not the kind of thing that will attract a lot of buyers anyway.
An ongoing issue with the Priv is the software update situation, an essential part of device security. The unlocked Priv got the Marshmallow update about a month ago, a good five months after it was final. Most major flagship devices got the update months earlier. However, we’re talking about AT&T and its adventure with the Priv, right? Well, that version of the phone still doesn’t have Marshmallow, because it’s up to the carrier to certify the update and roll it out. It’s hard to sell a phone when it’s running old software. BlackBerry doesn’t have the clout to push through software updates like more established Android OEMs.
Even when BlackBerry was still pushing BB OS 10, AT&T was there to stock its phones. Now that the Android-running Priv is doing poorly, it might spell trouble for BlackBerry. AT&T recently passed on the HTC 10 after several years of mediocre sales for HTC’s flagship. Blackberry could also find itself with fewer carrier partners soon. BlackBerry priced the Priv at a completely unreasonable $700 at launch, so you really need carriers to sell the phone with monthly plans. AT&T also admits this made the phone hard to sell.
BlackBerry is going to have some work to do if it wants its next Android device to fare better. BlackBerry has thus far refused to comment on Priv sales, but we asked just to make sure. We’re not expecting a reply.