The battle over the best Android phone heated up this week again with the entirely-expected announcement of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. Garnering less interest is the struggling BlackBerry, which recently released its keyboard-centric KEY2, which our Xbox Editor Jez Corden positively reviewed.
I, too, have been using the KEY2 for a few weeks, and like it quite a bit. But I'm confused as to why Microsoft and BlackBerry aren't working more closely on this phone. Because they should be.
Productivity, security, and business
I was at the BlackBerry announcement in New York City for the KEY2 and what struck me was how similar its message is compared to Microsoft's. The focus of the KEY2 is letting you get things done quickly and securely while using familiar BlackBerry hardware (even if it is outsourced to device maker TCL) and a physical keyboard.
Little bits of the KEY2 all revolved around the idea of safekeeping. For example:
- Its DTEK security checker.
- Privacy Shade makes it hard for onlookers to read your display.
- Redactor mode to block sensitive material.
- Send photos to a locker, prevent cloud saves.
- A locker to hide and secure apps, documents, and photos.
You can read the rest for yourself in CrackBerry's in-depth review. The point is the KEY2 does wonders for Android and security in such a way that those who work in sensitive areas for a job can feel much safer and more confident in its data protection.
The broader theme is the KEY2 is not a flashy phone, it's not a consumer-focused Galaxy S9-killer. Heck, it's not even that much of a bargain compared to a OnePlus – but it's a real business phone, built with security and a focus on getting work done when mobile.
Stop me if you heard this before ... but that sounds like Microsoft too.
BlackBerry KEY2 + Microsoft software = obvious
When I spoke to BlackBerry during the KEY2 launch event, the representatives had no answer as to why they don't work more closely with Microsoft.
Microsoft is known to have quite a few apps for Android including its Launcher, Skype, GroupMe, Office suite, Authenticator, OneDrive, Teams, Edge, Outlook, Wunderlist, To-Do, OneNote, Office Lens, and Remote Desktop. You wouldn't be wrong to say that those apps all have productivity in common.
So why not marry that suite of software to the KEY2's hardware and security features?
Many KEY2 users will install at least some of those apps, as they're quite hard to escape from if you work for a large company or are managed by an IT department.
There is a precedent for this, too. Microsoft and Samsung bizarrely "teamed up" to sell the Galaxy S8 with preinstalled apps (well, someone at a Microsoft Store did it for you). The so-called "Microsoft Edition" of that phone made less sense than Microsoft doing the same with BlackBerry – at least those two companies are aligned more closely in the enterprise.
Microsoft even sold the Galaxy S8 in its Microsoft Stores. Redmond also sold the Razer Phone, too, so why not the KEY2? The KEY2 already has a hard time finding any physical retailer to give it some shelf room.
And what about branding? Just stack Microsoft's name next to BlackBerry, and it's a big "duh" moment. Everyone would get why these two are working together.
Microsoft and BlackBerry deserve each other
Microsoft and BlackBerry are two companies that both royally screwed up in mobile. Each deserves an award for smartphone product mismanagement.
Because Microsoft has no phone game and BlackBerry is struggling to be relevant, these two companies should team up on a killer business-focused Android phone (e.g. KEY2 or KEY3). It doesn't even have to be fancy; just stick a suite of Microsoft business apps on the phone, maybe add some exclusive Microsoft feature, sell in Microsoft Stores with some Office 365 tie-in, and let BlackBerry (and TCL) handle the other stuff.
Would such a software partnership save BlackBerry or make Microsoft significantly more relevant in the smartphone space? I'm not sure. But both companies could benefit from the partnership. It would at least be more exciting and make the KEY2 that much more interesting for those who wear business suits.
Come on, Microsoft, BlackBerry is Canadian. Just ask them. Even if they turn you down, I'm sure they will be super polite about it.