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BlackBerry Offers Android Users a Secure New Smartphone

BackBerry on Tuesday made a play for security-conscious Android users with the announcement of its new DTEK50.


Running Android 6.0 Marshmallow and BlackBerry security software, the new unit is the “most secure Android smartphone” in the world, the company claimed.

Among the DTEK50’s security features:

  • rapid patching for quick delivery of security updates;
  • DTEK software for monitoring a phone’s operating system and applications, and to alert a user whose privacy is at risk;
  • Hardware Root of Trust, which allows security to be baked into a device at the manufacturing stage;
  • secure boot process that monitors each stage of a phone’s startup to ensure none of the components in that process have been tampered with;
  • Android hardening to prevent an attack on a phone by scrambling an application’s system memory; and
  • full disk encryption.


Who Cares About Security

Many Android users have concerns about the their phone’s security, according to BlackBerry’s April survey of 8,000 consumers between the ages of 34 and 54.

Fifty percent of the respondents felt their phones were only somewhat secure, and only one in six knew about security patches for their phones, researchers found.

“With an increase in cybercrime on smartphones, people need to recognize that the private details of their lives — where they live, their bank info, pictures of their kids — are at risk on their personal device,” said BlackBerry Chief Security Officer David Kleidermacher.

“You wouldn’t leave the doors of your house unlocked at night. Having a smartphone that doesn’t take your privacy seriously is the equivalent,” he pointed out. “It’s equally important for businesses to protect their sensitive data from cyberattacks at all points of their mobile environment — from the device to the network and servers.”


On Last Legs?

Apart from its security extras, the DTEK50 has a 5.2-inch HD display, supports SD cards with up to 2 terabytes of storage, and has two cameras — an 8-MP front facing shooter and a 13-MP rear facing unit with phase-detection autofocus and a dual-tone LED flash.

BlackBerry on Tuesday began accepting DTEK50 preorders at its online store. It sells for US$299, and through Aug. 8, anyone buying the phone there will receive a complementary BlackBerry Mobile Power Pack.

“This phone is an interesting twist on BlackBerry’s asset-light approach to hardware development,” saidIHS Markit analyst Wayne Lam. “The physical hardware is essentially a rebranded Alcatel Idol 4 smartphone with BlackBerry security software.”

BlackBerry once dominated the smartphone market it help create in the first decade of the century, but in recent years its hardware fortunes have steadily declined. This latest offering isn’t likely to change that.

“They’re doing a number of right things with this phone, but it’s a tough sell,” said Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research.


Not a Customer Magnet

The DTEK50’s security and selling price are both strong points of the phone, but the list of features needed to attract consumers to a smartphone these days has more than just two items, maintained Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen.

For that reason, “it will not attract new users in any significant way, but it could help keep existing users,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s entirely possible that the new phone will help BlackBerry stem the tide of customers leaving its platform for other devices, but I expect that attracting new customers will continue to be a challenge for the company,” said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“That’s especially true given the security improvements that competitors have instituted over the past 12 to18 months,” he told TechNewsWorld.


Unaffected Trajectory

BlackBerry’s competitors, who have more robust phones, already have started chipping away at the company’s security corner of the market, noted Gartner’s Nguyen. Samsung, for example, has introduced Knox, which adds security to Android phones.

BlackBerry really doesn’t have much to offer the smartphone market from a hardware perspective, maintained IHS’ Lam.

“They have essentially vacated this space and are no longer a competitive hardware vendor. The use of Alcatel design on the DTEK50 is testament to that fact,” he said.

Will the DTEK50 have a significant impact on BlackBerry’s smartphone fortunes?

“Will this phone make their trajectory more positive?” Nguyen asked. “I’m highly skeptical of that.”

That may not be a critical issue, however.

“The company’s leadership is already preparing for a future where software and services are more important to BlackBerry’s bottom line than hardware,” said Pund-IT’s King.

“That’s a rational approach to take in a smartphone market where the line between mainstream and premium handsets is getting thinner and thinner,” he maintained.

“I really think BlackBerry should just stop making hardware,” suggested Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi.

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