BlackBerry’s new Android phone will enter a crowded and complex 'Android for the enterprise' market.

Last month we found out that BlackBerry really is making an Android phone, and it's going to be called the "Priv." The idea seems appealing enough-take the security credentials of BlackBerry, combine them with an operating system that's actually popular, and the result is the ultimate phone for the enterprise.

Last month we found out that BlackBerry really is making an Android phone, and it’s going to be called the “Priv.” The idea seems appealing enough—take the security credentials of BlackBerry, combine them with an operating system that’s actually popular, and the result is the ultimate phone for the enterprise.

If only it were that simple.

The market for Android in the enterprise is complex and somewhat crowded. Let’s look at what the Priv is up against: 

We all know that managing Android is hard. For many years the MDM APIs have been very basic, so third-party MDM APIs from individual OEMs abounded.

Samsung Safe (MDM APIs) and Knox (more advanced MDM and device-based MAM features) grew out of this challenge, and they’ve done fairly well. Knox has US Department of Defense approval along with various other government security certifications, and for a lot of companies, an “Android strategy” basically boils down to Samsung.

Did Samsung replicate the enterprise dominance that BlackBerry had 10 years ago? No, but we live in a different world now anyway. Nobody standardizes on a single phone anymore, and companies have been finding ways to get off of BlackBerry and onto iOS and Android for years.

Now Android for Work is also coming on the scene. It really will solve many problems by providing standard enterprise features that all Android OEMs can use, but unfortunately it will take a while. Right now the list of supported devices is still short.

Yes, Android for Work is available on flagship phones, but I’ve also heard frustration that it’s not appearing on cheaper devices yet. Why do companies want it on cheaper devices? In that case, it’s not about BYOD, it’s about corporate-liable devices for the extended enterprise—situations where companies don’t want to spring for the most expensive devices. (On the non-Android side, ever wonder why Apple keeps the iPod touch and older iPhone and iPad models around? This is one reason.)

The spread of Android for Work could be hastened if Google made support mandatory and if OEMs and carriers were faster with updates, but what are we going to do? That’s been the Android story for years. The bottom line is that as Android for Work support actually does arrive, it’ll make life easier.

Regarding the relationship between Samsung and Android for Work, there was a bit of awkwardness when Samsung and Google first said they were collaborating on it and then later Google changed its position, but that drama was a year ago.

Now as Android for Work filters onto the scene (in terms of devices, EMM support, and enterprise awareness) there will be more alternatives to Samsung Knox. That could be a downer for Samsung, but on the other hand they do have their lead in high-security use cases.

Of course it’s not just Samsung and Android for Work that the Priv is up against.

LG has its own enterprise Android effort called LG Gate. Motorola Solutions and other OEMs have special Android modifications for the extended enterprise and mission-critical devices. Then we have projects such as the BlackPhone, which includes multiple user space technology from Graphite Software. (I tested Graphite a while back.) There’s also Cellrox, which offers another different type of multiple user space technology. Cellrox hasn’t made it onto any phones yet, but recently-appointed CEO Dror Nadler assured me that some are in the pipeline. (I tested Cellrox, and now so can you.) Boeing is working on a phone. There are other Android modification efforts, like Red Bend, General Dynamics/Open Kernel Labs, and the now-defunct VMware Mobile Virtualization Platform.

You get the point.

On the software side, we have years of work on app-level MAM and SDKs and app wrapping. We also have virtual mobile infrastructure (VMI), an emerging field that we’ve been watching with interest. VMI can cater to the highest security requirements.

There’s a lot happening in enterprise Android! Now llet’s get back the BlackBerry Priv and its chances.

First, one of the most challenging problems is that the BlackBerry name is a double-edged sword. Sure BlackBerry is a trusted security brand, but its image is tarnished. Will they even be making phones in a year or two? CEO John Chen has implied several times that they might get out of the handset business. Would you want to base your strategy on BlackBerry phones when that’s a possibility? Plus there’s a lot about the Priv that we just don’t know yet.

Consider what else the Priv is facing. With the spread of Android for Work and the general mobility environment today, the Priv’s appeal is mostly limited to regulated and security-conscious organizations. That’s fine, but it’ll be battling Samsung and now virtual mobile infrastructure, too. That’ll be tough.

BlackBerry also hinted they could simply take a software-only approach to Android device security. Presumably this would mean offering technology that would allow other vendors to integrate their devices with the BlackBerry NOC infrastructure and BlackBerry Enterprise Service. (To be clear, this is an OS and hardware-level thing. BlackBerry already provides integrated apps for iOS and Android, and soon they’ll be superseded by apps from Good Dynamics.) Customers that want BlackBerry security and the NOC architecture would be able to choose between apps or various handsets from partners. (They announced an integration with Samsung Knox almost a year ago, so there is a precedent.)

For hardcore BlackBerry fans, maybe they could license their keyboard technology to other OEMs or accessory makers; or make BlackBerry Android and iOS PIM clients available to consumers. (Heck, even if it’s not their main business strategy, maybe they make just enough Privs for the hard core fans? Just sell them direct and unlocked, and make sure to charge enough to make it worth it? I’m just thinking out loud here...)

There are some that are waiting for BlackBerry to fail, but I’m not counting them out—I like that they’re trying all sorts of things. They’re fully invested in supporting iOS and other Android devices, including Samsung and Android for Work. Also, remember their acquisition of Good Technology helps them have a substantial share of EMM market revenues.

To make this all happen, though, they have to continue to be careful with their marketing, execute well, and earn back confidence.

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