BlackBerry CEO tries to demo upcoming Android phone

CEO John Chen runs into a little trouble taking us on a tour of BlackBerry's Priv Android phone. Is that a bad omen?

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read

BlackBerry CEO John Chen shows off the Priv's slider keyboard. Will that feature convince the BlackBerry faithful to try the phone? Business News Network

A BlackBerry demo that attempted to show off the company's upcoming Priv phone didn't go quite as smoothly as it could have.

In a brief video interview with Business News Network's Amber Kanwar, CEO John Chen revealed the Priv phone, the first BlackBerry phone to run Google's Android operating system. The move to Android represents a major shift for BlackBerry, which has consistently touted the security and other features of its BB operating system and devices. But with sales and market share at a low point, BlackBerry is now turning to Android in hopes of resuscitating consumer interest.

With little audience enthusiasm for the BlackBerry operating system, trying to branch out to Google's mobile OS isn't a bad idea. But a shift to Android on a single phone so far may not do much to beef up BlackBerry's mobile phone business at this point. Once a dominant force in the mobile phone market, especially among the enterprise crowd, BlackBerry has lost much of its business to players such as Apple and Samsung. Even corporations and government agencies have been jumping ship from BlackBerry to rival manufacturers.

Chen's demo itself proved problematic, almost symbolic of BlackBerry's own misfortunes at this point.

We do get to see the first public and up-close appearance of the Priv, which Chen explains stands for both privacy and privilege. The phone certainly looks sleek, with a large curved screen. But when Chen tries to use the phone, that's when the trouble starts. Opening Google Chrome takes several attempts before it finally pops up. And then when it does, we don't see much of anything as Chen says that "I have to set it up; this is a demo unit."

Chen then goes back to the main screen to "see if he can get anything." But at that point, he gives up on the demo, almost as if he's not quite sure what to show. We do learn that the phone sports a 5.5-inch screen and that it's BlackBerry's first one with a curved screen. Chen says the phone has the latest specs but doesn't go into any details about them.

He does try to save the day by finally showing us "the claim to fame," namely the phone's slider keyboard. Slide out from the bottom of the phone, and you'll get a physical QWERTY keyboard, one of the features unique to BlackBerry in a mobile world where most phones sport virtual keyboards. And the Priv's slider doubles as a capacitive touch screen, which means you can slide your finger around it to move the cursor on your screen.

Chen was then asked if this is the phone that's going to bring back the BlackBerry user that abandoned it because they needed a different operating system. That was clearly a tough question for Chen to answer as he wanted to tout the new phone but not put down the BlackBerry OS at the same time. In response, the CEO contended that everyone loves BlackBerry 10 but the problem is that there are not enough apps.

So the Priv is an attempt to combine a classic BlackBerry phone with a mobile OS that offers enough apps. And earlier indications from carriers and some customers is that they love it, according to Chen.

Whether or not the Priv is a hit, how do analysts think BlackBerry will fare?

The introduction of the Priv may drive modest sequential growth, according to Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um. But JP Morgan's Rod Hall sees even lower smartphone shipments ahead.

In an investors note released Monday, Hall said he lowered his forecast for BlackBerry smartphone shipments for fiscal 2016, which ends February 27 of next year. Hall now believes shipments will land at 3.7 million for the year, down by 1.7 million from his previous estimate. Shipments for fiscal 2017 will drop to 3.2 million, down by 2.4 million from the analyst's prior estimate.

Hall also thinks more customers will flee BlackBerry as he expects subscribers to fall by 2 million to 20 million by the end of fiscal 2016 and by 4 million to 7 million by the end of fiscal 2017.