Nine months ago, BlackBerry (NYSE:BB) appeared to be under attack from fellow Department of Defense contractor Boeing (NYSE:BA). The Boeing Black smartphone, an Android handset catering to the strictest security requirements imaginable, looked like a direct threat to BlackBerry's government contracts.
As it turns out, Boeing might actually be BlackBerry's best friend right now. You see, the ultra-secure Boeing Black handset will come with support for BlackBerry's BES 12 device management service. It's not much of a stretch to assume the Boeing Black might also feature BlackBerry's hallmark secure messaging system.
So rather than pushing the Canadian company away from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, the Boeing Black might in fact keep BlackBerry closer to the American government.
In last week's earnings call, BlackBerry CEO John Chen dropped that news bomb himself, right after announcing the company's support for the latest Android Lollipop version: "We are pleased to announce that Boeing is collaborating with BlackBerry to provide secure mobile solution for Android devices utilizing our BES 12 platform. That, by the way, is all they'll allow me to say. So, sorry if it seems like I am reading it word for word. I am true to my commitment here."
Later in the same call, Chen made it clear that Boeing is a paying BES 12 customer. This cross-platform system lets information-technology managers enjoy some of BlackBerry's best security features without using any BlackBerry-branded hardware. For Chen's company, that's a smart way to stay relevant even when Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones and various Android models have rendered the classic BlackBerry handset obsolete and unwanted.
The Boeing Black might not blow today's Android or Apple flagships out of the water. It's a 4.3-inch handset with very modest processing horsepower, unimpressive battery capacity, and a low-resolution screen. The Black would have looked right at home on store shelves in 2011 next to outdated classics such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, the iPhone 4S, or BlackBerry's own Bold 9790.
But the Boeing handset goes the extra mile for security-conscious customers.
Boeing's own PureSecure software adds a trusted boot feature that can thwart any attempt to gain unlimited access to the device's data -- and disable the handset when such an attempt is detected. It is hardware-encrypted by default, and I doubt the user would even have the option to disable this feature.
The platform can be configured to disable features including voice calling, using the camera, or wireless network access based on location and other data points. And it comes with two SIM card slots, allowing the user to keep government-network data entirely separate from commercial networks.
Now we know the Black will support BlackBerry's latest and greatest management systems. Moreover, the handset boasts "Embedded FIPS 140-2 Key Storage." That bit of security gobbledygook would come in handy when connecting to BlackBerry's latest secure messaging systems. Why? Because "BBM Protected is the only secure mobile instant messaging app that uses a FIPS 140-2 validated cryptographic library."
BlackBerry offers the only mobile messaging app that supports the Boeing Black's favorite security protocol? You do the math.
So the Boeing Black just became more friend than foe to BlackBerry. It's unclear when Boeing will release this product, or how large the high-security market for the device might be, but it's always good to have friends in high places. And Boeing most certainly does.
There might be a future for BlackBerry yet, if only as a dedicated security software vendor. Consider the Boeing Black an early win in that category.