The PRIV, BlackBery’s new Android phone is now available to pre-order. BlackBerry began taking orders for an unlocked version today for $899 in Canada ($699 in the U.S.) and began directing Rogers customers to pre-orders on that carrier’s site.
The device, which may in fact turn out to be BlackBerry’s swan song to the hardware business, has a 5.4 inch screen, a physical keyboard that slides out from the bottom of the phone, a Schneider-Kreuznach® certified camera, and what the company describes as extraordinary audio quality.
But the biggest difference between the PRIV and other BlackBerry devices, of course, is the operating system. This device runs on Android 5.1.1, which is also known as “Lollipop”.
“PRIV has the authentic BlackBerry keyboard, legendary security, streamlined communications and productivity, combined with the wide world of Google Play™ store apps,” says the company’s marketing material. “It has been engineered with the world’s finest technology, and packaged in an ultra-thin, ergonomically perfect device with a keyboard hidden by SmartSlide technology.”
A lot is riding on the success of this device. BlackBerry CEO John Chen, if fact, recently suggested the company would bid adieu to making phones altogether if overall sales didn’t hit the five-million mark.
So Will the PRIV be a hit? Some early reviewers seem to think so.
“To BlackBerry’s credit, the Priv could well prove to be the handset which helps to turn its fortunes around,” said The Telegraph’s Rhiannon Williams this week. “Given smartphones’ almost total adoption of touch screens, it’s easy to forget that an entire subsection of consumers still clamour for the physicality of a QWERTY keyboard, with the Priv encapsulating the best of both worlds.”
But Ars Technica writer Ron Amadeo notes that the release of the device comes against the background of rapid commoditization in the handset business.
“Android OEMs have been in a race to the bottom, cutting costs everywhere they can and axing features like SD card slots, hardware keyboards, camera buttons, and everything else,” he says. “Blackberry obviously isn’t falling in with the current Android OEM groupthink, and that makes the Priv one of the more exciting devices to come along in some time. We’re excited about a Blackberry device. What year is it?”
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Others are more pessimistic about the PRIV’s chances, suggesting than the sun may have already set on the Canadian company’s hardware business and there’s nothing left to do for it but ride off into its dying embers.
“Getting the consumers that do upgrade their phones often to buy the Priv won’t be easy — it’s been nearly impossible to purchase a BlackBerry device in carrier stores in the US for years now and most people just don’t think of BlackBerry when they want to buy a new phone,” says the Verge’s Dan Seifert.
BlackBerry exiting the hardware business might be weird for some, but it doesn’t exactly spell disaster for the company. In fact, Cormark analyst Richard Tse noted earlier this year that hardware is well on its way to becoming a non-factor on the company’s balance sheet.
“While the consensus headlines continue to target hardware, the reality is that the company has effectively “outsourced” the economics of this business in the past two years,” said Tse. “As of F2016, we estimate hardware will contribute less than 5% to BlackBerry’s absolute gross margin ($56 MM of $1.2 BB). As such, we believe the key datapoint that should be on the mind of investors is the company’s progress toward its software/services revenue model where we see continued (but mild) progress.”