Android is taking over the world, and smartphone makers who have traditionally eschewed the platform are beginning to adopt it. BlackBerry is reportedly building its first Android phone, and details about the device, reportedly codenamed the “Venice,” are beginning to leak. Here’s what you need to know.
Stephen Hall at 9to5Google reported on an image, posted by Evan Blass, of what appeared to be a BlackBerry Passport running Android. Many thought it was the company’s new slider, which Blass had earlier reported will be coming to AT&T, but Blass clarified that the image was “just a Passport.” However, he also posted a press rendering of the “Venice” slider, which will reportedly feature a touchscreen that slides up to reveal a physical keyboard underneath.
An earlier report from N4BB said that the “Venice” will feature a 5.4-inch quad-HD display, an 18MP rear-facing camera, a 5MP front-facing camera, a 1.8GHz Hexacore processor, and 3GB of RAM. Hall notes that the phone appears to be “remarkably thin” based on the rendering posted by Blass. The bottom features a headphone jack, a standard micro USB port, and a speaker grille. Volume buttons are visible on the side, and the edges of the phone’s display appear to curve slightly, like those of the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.
The rendering also reveals some interesting details about the phone’s software. The operating system appears to be a near-stock version of Android Lollipop, with icons for Google’s official apps featuring prominently. However, the image also features many apps on top of Google’s standard assortment, including BBC, Evernote, Candy Cam, Bing, and Canada Post. The phone also seems to feature shortcut icons for quick access to calling and texting specific contacts.
In June, Euan Rocha reported for Reuters that BlackBerry was considering equipping an upcoming smartphone with Google’s Android operating system for the first time. Rocha characterized the move as “an acknowledgement that its revamped line of devices has failed to win mass appeal,” noting that BlackBerry originally “shunned” Android in a bet that its BlackBerry 10 devices would be able to win back market share lost to Apple’s iPhone and to a wide array of Android smartphones. BlackBerry, which at one time dominated smartphone sales, now accounts for less than 1% of the market.
Rocha reported that BlackBerry is likely to use Android on an upcoming slider device to be released in the fall. The slider, which the company briefly showed onstage at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in March, will combine a touchscreen with a physical keyboard. With such a phone, BlackBerry is reportedly hoping to appeal to an underserved niche market in the touchscreen-dominated Android world. The device could attract users who are still using older BlackBerry hardware, but want access to the larger array of apps on the Android platform.
Dieter Bohn reported for The Verge that it’s been a very long time since anyone has launched a “decent” Android device with a physical keyboard, and an even longer time since there’s been a new vertical sliding phone with a physical keyboard. The result is that there are very few choices on the incredibly competitive Android market for phones with physical keyboards, especially when it comes to phones with up-to-date technology.
If Blass is correct — he does have a history of posting accurate leaks — and BlackBerry both releases a well-built phone and pulls off the Android switch, the upcoming “Venice” could make users who still prefer phones with physical keyboards very happy.
Sources told Reuters that if BlackBerry does launch an Android device, the phone would likely come with some of the patented features of the BlackBerry 10 operating system. BlackBerry already offers its Messenger app to Android users, but the new phone will also reportedly bring BlackBerry Hub to Android. The device is expected to ship with Messenger, Hub, and BlackBerry’s predictive text feature.
However, not everyone is optimistic about the prospect of an Android-powered BlackBerry. Zach Epstein at BGR projected that the device “will probably be a disaster,” not only because “only a couple of global vendors have managed to make money” with Android, but also because the phone is expected to debut around November, “right around the time Apple and Samsung kick their multi-billion dollar marketing campaigns into overdrive. Good luck.”