BB 10.2.1: BlackBerry’s new ‘open’ OS could be its biggest gamble yet. Here is why

None of the features in BB 10.2.1 are revolutionary and have been available on other platforms for years.

Written by Nandagopal Rajan | New Delhi | Updated: January 28, 2014 8:43:55 pm
BlackBerry 10.2.1 now allows users to natively install Android apps BlackBerry 10.2.1 now allows users to natively install Android apps

Faced with dropping sales of its much-hyped new devices all over the world, BlackBerry Limited on Tuesday announced an update bringing in a lot of features demanded by its users. However, the most interesting feature in the new 10.2.1 version its BlackBerry 10 OS is that it allows users to natively install Android apps from third party sources. This might solve one of the biggest grouses BlackBerry users have had with its new, and old, platforms: the lack of apps that are popular on other platforms. However, it also opens up what is considered to be the most secure mobile platform to vulnerabilities that could come embedded in unverified Android apps.

Interestingly, the press release does not mention this minor detail, which could in effect be the biggest strategic shift the company has made in recent years. Even at the closed door briefing in New Delhi, this fact was mentioned at the very end, almost like an afterthought. Advait Vaidya, BlackBerry India’s head of product management, clarified that BB10 users will not be able to download apps from the Google Play Store, and will have to do so from ‘trusted’ third party sources. Plus, these apps would be able to run on the work sphere of devices that are managed by IT departments of companies.

BlackBerry had come in for a lot of flak when it allowed porting of Android apps to its new BB10 app store. A year on, it seems the inability to get the apps that matter has forced the Canadian smartphone maker to capitulate and open up for third party apps. It is surprising why the company did not decide to open a curated Android app store of its own, as that would have given it the ability to keep out risky software. However, CTOs will react to this new ‘improved’ OS remains to be seen.

The company announced a host of improvements to its BB10 OS with the new update, including a customised pinch gesture to filter blackberry hub to show just filtered messages and incoming call screen that lets you swipe to the left to answer or swipe right to ignore a call.  Like in other operating systems, users can now respond to a call with a text message and even a BBM is the caller is on the messaging platform. The OS now lets users create SMS and email groups and has a picture-number password for quick unlocking. There is also an exhaustive device and battery monitor as well as FM Radio for Z30, Q10 and Q5 smartphones.

But none of these features are revolutionary and have been available on other platforms for years. What is really revolutionary is the fact that a platform that prides itself as being the most secure now lets you install software made for the platform that is notorious as being the most insecure.

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