Once upon a time, in a smartphone market not so far away, the term “smartphone” was almost always preceded by the term “BlackBerry.” BlackBerry’s combined cell ‘phone and messaging expert devices were in use by people from teenagers to high powered executives, but for a number of reasons, the BlackBerry device fell out of favor. BlackBerry’s old operating system was based on Java and had not been well adapted to touchscreen technology. BlackBerry bought QNX, an efficient, reliable and stable operating system used in the medical industry for some time, and were busy adapting this into BlackBerry 10 but unfortunately the technology was somewhere around three years too late. By the time BlackBerry 10 arrived on the scene, as technically impressive and readily developed as it was, it was perhaps too little, too late. BlackBerry 10 devices have failed to acquire much market share – and so BlackBerry did what was once unthinkable, they adopted Android. And have produced one of 2015’s most interesting devices in the shape of the BlackBerry Priv.
The BlackBerry Priv runs a BlackBerry “hardened” (modified) version of Android, which looks similar to stock but has a number of BlackBerry-added applications and services installed. To a former BlackBerry enthusiast and enjoyer of the BlackBerry 10 device, using the Priv is intriguing. The Priv feels familiar on both fronts, and it’s backed up by respectable hardware too: BlackBerry have based the Priv around a high resolution 5.4-inch touchscreen and it’s running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 System-on-Chip. It has a slide out, touch sensitive keyboard that may also double as a track pad, an 18MP rear camera and a hefty battery under the skin. It also runs Android 5.1 Lollipop with 6.0 Marshmallow expected in February 2016. However, whilst the Priv is running the older version of Android, BlackBerry had already updated 5.1 Lollipop to include Google’s December security patches before the Nexus line received their update. That’s impressive stuff: anybody would think that BlackBerry were old school at Android devices and software updates.
We’ve news today that BlackBerry have pushed a number of updates to core Priv applications onto the Google Play Store – updates have arrived for BlackBerry Services, BlackBerry Camera, BlackBerry Launcher and the BlackBerry Keyboard. There are detailed notes on the application changes in the Google Play Store listings, but the key improvements include how WhatsApp notification is now integrated into the BlackBerry Hub, the camera is now much quicker to launch and has an improved user interface. BlackBerry have also enabled multiple language support for the Keyboard, which allows prediction and correction up to three languages. These updates follow hot on the heels of the recent security patch update.
Whilst the physical keyboard might not be relevant to customers, that BlackBerry have produced an Android device, and are serious about keeping it updated shows that they mean business. BlackBerry are reinventing themselves as a software company after all, but the early signs are that their way of using Android is a model other manufacturers could surely learn from.