BlackBerry has had some tough times. I’ll be honest, it deserved most of them, because it’s made some properly idiotic decisions in recent years. I have in my phone collection a BlackBerry Bold 9900, it’s a really nice device but the issues using it on the contract I have on my second SIM was so monumentally difficult to overcome that I gave up and used the Palm Pre 3 instead.
BlackBerry learnt from its old devices, and has got rid of the infuriating need to pay a fee to access its servers in BlackBerry OS 10. This is a huge step forward, and one it should have taken a very long time ago. Normal customers just don’t want to pay an extra fee to use email they would get for free on any other phone.
It also learnt, far too late, that letting other mobile platforms have access to BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) would have given them a whole new market to exploit. With Facebook paying $19billion for WhatsApp, the future for BBM could have been much greater if it had been made available on Android and iOS earlier. After all, BBM is the original mobile instant messenger app, and you could argue that it was the inspiration for so many of the apps which have arrived since.
So with so many mistakes made in the past, it is encouraging to see the company make a good decision, namely adopting Amazon’s Android app store as a secondary source of apps for the platform. BlackBerry devices have been able to run Android apps for some time under the BB10 operating system, but it was never this easy in the past. Long term, this feels like a move that might see BlackBerry get out of the third-party app market all together. It will always develop its own software, of course, but why not let Google’s Android apps take the strain for third-party development?
Straight away, adding the Amazon App store takes BlackBerry phones up from a paltry 130,000 apps, to somewhere in the region of 300,000. It’s not yet clear how many of the Android apps available through Amazon will actually work on BlackBerry 10.3 devices when the update rolls out later in the year, there are sure to be some that just simply won’t work on BlackBerry hardware.
For now, BlackBerry’s App World will stick around, but I don’t think it has long for this world. It seems quite clear that BlackBerry is admitting that native apps, built for its QNX-based operating system, are a waste of time. Developers for the platform may have mixed feelings, but as virtually no one develops platform exclusive apps these days, it makes sense for the developers to focus on Android apps, and ensure compatibility with BlackBerry where possible. As Android and BlackBerry 10 are both Linux-based, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem, although it’s an issue that Samsung will also face, if it intends to move its phones over to using its own Tizen OS in the future. That system uses a Linux base too, so Samsung will be paying attention to how this goes for Blackberry.
My only real worry is the decision to pair with Amazon for apps, music and movies – BlackBerry is getting out of the entertainment business too – when it could have gone direct to Google, and got a much larger library. But this is likely to have been a commercial decision, the terms of working with Amazon must have been better for BlackBerry.
Some have argued that BlackBerry should get out of the hardware game, this is not something I agree with, because BlackBerry makes great hardware, and always has done. It is one of the few companies that has thought about what its users need, and delivered hardware to meet that need. This is why the physical keyboard has remained a fixture on BlackBerry phones, and why people continue to buy them, despite BlackBerry 10 being somewhat of a mess.
What BlackBerry has done, in accepting its weaknesses, is save its hardware business from oblivion. There is no doubt that BlackBerry, as a company, will survive in some form for a long time, but this move gives it a much stronger footing in a world dominated by Apple and Google.
I have my fingers crossed that the next phone I try from BlackBerry is a much less frustrating experience than I’ve had in the past.