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BlackBerry going all-in on Android phones

Sorry, BlackBerry 10 software fans. The company, which plans to release just one or two phones this year, will use only Google's Android software.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen hopes the Android-powered Priv phone will help keep the brand alive.
© MARK BLINCH/Reuters/Corbis

This will be an all-Android year for BlackBerry's newest phones.

The Waterloo, Ontario-based company plans to release one new product, and potentially a second phone, in 2016. Both will run on Google's mobile software, CEO John Chen confirmed in an interview at CES in Las Vegas.

His comments follow news that Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint will sell the BlackBerry Priv, the company's first phone running on Android, after a 60-day exclusive deal with AT&T.

It's bittersweet news for die-hard BlackBerry fans, a shrinking, but fiercely loyal group. Yes, BlackBerry will continue to exist, but won't offer any phones running on its own BlackBerry 10 software. Still, future Android BlackBerry devices means more choice besides the usual mix of Samsung, LG or HTC Android phones.

Chen declined to comment on timing or details of the upcoming phones.

Roughly two months into sales of the Priv, however, it's "so far, so good," Chen said. "I'm taking a cautiously optimistic view."


It seems BlackBerry will be all about Android this year. Hello, Priv.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

Phone sales are like movie premieres: There's excitement that first weekend, but success depends on the level of interest later on. "The question is, does it last?" Chen said. To push the movie analogy further: It's harder for films to generate a ton of excitement when they're only being shown in art houses.

That's kind of what BlackBerry did with the Priv when it opted to limit the phone's initial launch to just a few carriers, including AT&T in the US. Chen said he simply didn't have the resources to do a massive rollout with every carrier.

BlackBerry plans to sell the Priv, which currently costs $699, in 31 countries over the next few quarters. Chen said the price will likely come down over time.

Chen also hopes the Priv will help improve the company's viability, repair the brand and eventually make it possible to produce another phone running BlackBerry 10 -- although he said it's too early to talk about those plans.

Still, he's "confident in profitability this year." That's important, because BlackBerry has pegged 2016 as a make-or-break year for the phone business. If the company continues to lose money, he could look at dumping it.

As for you BlackBerry 10 fans, don't lose hope. Chen wouldn't outright say he's abandoning the software. This year, the company is focused on getting national security certification for BlackBerry 10 so the devices can be used in certain government and corporate projects. The company will continue to offer the BlackBerry Classic and older devices, but it isn't investing in new hardware.

The BlackBerry faithful will have to exercise extreme patience.