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BlackBerry: You can't just roll up and make one

New light on licensing plans

The DTEK50 uses a TCL reference design

Interview BlackBerry says it won’t license its brand and security hardened Android “to any Tom Dick and Harry” as it tries to maintain the value of its brand.

The BlackBerry senior VP for sales for its Mobility division Alex Thurber - stopping to talk to El Reg as he sailed through London on his honeymoon - also told us BlackBerry had interested potential licensees for its BB10 platform, and would consider licensing its keyboard know-how too.

Last week BlackBerry announced that, with the Mobility Unit failing to meet its profitability target, the company was switching to licensing its software and brand instead, although it would produce at least two more BlackBerry-branded devices.

It was no surprise, as Chen had speculated about licensing the brand in New York in July - but nobody noticed. (See BlackBerry chief: We don't have to make phones to make phones

“If you listen to John Chen there, he says exactly what’s going to happen,” he noted.

Thurber added that the hardened Android will qualify for NIAP certification, a set of security standards required for government use.

“We will have a NIAP-certified Android next year,” Thurber confirmed.

Typically only devices with secure containers have qualified, such as Samsung’s KNOX or LG’s GATE

So if BlackBerry considers you to have a credible business model, you could be making the BlackBerrys that BlackBerry itself never got around to making, and bid for some lucrative customers.

Thurber calls BlackBerry's switch an “outsourcing” move rather than a major strategic change in direction. BlackBerry was already taking third-party reference designs for its phones, such as the DTEK50 phone, which uses a TCL reference design. TCL owns the Alcatel brand, which sells a version without the BlackBerry keys and hardened Linux, as the Idol 4. Under the new arrangement, Chen told financial analysts, the licensee will take on distribution, logistics and repair.

“We’re very careful who we’re working with. We want to be very positive; the contracts are long and complex and we’re involved in every stage of the way. We’ll know what’s going on at every stage of the manufacturing process - and we’ll still inject our hardware keys at the right moment.”

He explained: “We continue to support the BlackBerry 10 operating system; some companies are interested in licensing it for handsets. If it’s a solid business model going forward we’ll work with a 3rd manufacturer. But we’re not close enough to say we’re going to do that."

BlackBerry 10 users have been waiting some time for the NIAP-certified 10.3.3 update. It was originally promised for Q1. Was this because BlackBerry had laid off all the BB10 engineers?

"Don't read anything into that," said Thurber. "There were a variety of different issues both internal and external. "We will continue to provide support for the product, until some future date."

Thurbur had 10 years' channel experience at Cisco, then stints at Intel’s McAfee and at firewall company WatchGuard. Clearly when BlackBerry hired him it was looking beyond its traditional device distribution partnerships with operators. Towards what exactly?

Thurber says it’s because technology sales are converging. In many markets, operators don’t subsidise devices so much any more, if at all, and this opens up an opportunity for end-to-end companies like BlackBerry.

“If you’re a reseller or partner who knows about security, then being the trusted advisor to help is an advantage.”

BlackBerry opened up its Android bundle to the consumer via the Google Play Store in August and Thurber says it has reached 100,000 downloads. The Hub+ bundle includes an email client, PIM apps and Password Keeper.

“A number of large companies are interesting in site licensing Hub+ for all of their employees. It’s not just a great productivity tool but new users like it as well. But there are no plans to throw the BlackBerry keyboard and DTEK up for grabs. You’ll need to buy a BlackBerry-branded phone for that.

“Those are core to BlackBerry. I don’t know of anything that’s imminent to change that.”

BlackBerry's DTEK60 is imminent, and its promised to bring a QWERTY Android to market too. ®

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