I think BlackBerry should have pursued this move long ago, but even though the company would be rather tardy in entering the Android camp, it could still have opportunities to differentiate itself.
Long live BlackBerry 10?
BlackBerry 10 has utterly flailed in the market, and the operating system has done no favors to BlackBerry's market share, while the crowd of loyalists gets smaller every day. In an email, BlackBerry told Reuters that it remains "committed" to BlackBerry 10 since it offers unrivaled "security and productivity benefits." But even though BlackBerry does have strengths in those areas, they're lost if no one is buying the actual devices.
BlackBerry should focus its efforts completely on bringing those benefits to other platforms. To be clear, BlackBerry has been working on opening up many of its key enterprise security and device management offerings to support Apple's iOS and Google's(NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android. But continuing to invest in BlackBerry 10's development and maintenance is likely a waste of money. For a company that is on the ropes and trying to put together a turnaround, BlackBerry doesn't have an awful lot of cash to spare at the moment, either ($3.3 billion as of last quarter).
BlackBerry is already piggybacking on Android
One obvious reason for BlackBerry 10's lackluster performance in the market is a dearth of prominent apps. Developers have little to no reason to cater to a shrinking platform. The company tried to address this weakness by piggybacking on Android, allowing developers to port their apps over to BlackBerry 10. BlackBerry even partnered with Amazon.com, tapping into the e-commerce giant's Amazon Appstore.
But the big risk here is that if all of the important apps are merely "wrappers" of Android apps, BlackBerry 10 itself risks becoming just a "wrapper" of an operating system. It might as well embrace Android fully and gain unfettered access to the countless apps available directly through Google Play.
At the same time, Android's open-source nature would allow BlackBerry to add a layer of differentiation on top of Android. This differentiation would come in the form of security, an area where Android has weaknesses anyway.
Just do it
Another area where BlackBerry has always set itself apart has been physical keyboards. It's a bit unclear whether mainstream consumers really want physical keyboards anymore, though. Android OEMs have made devices with physical keyboards before, and there's a reason all the flagship devices don't bother with the feature.
BlackBerry is supposedly working on a slider device that has a large touchscreen as well as a physical keyboard. The company teased such a device at Mobile World Congress earlier this year.
Even if BlackBerry isn't ready to swallow its pride and give up hardware altogether -- instead publicly maintaining its commitment to the devices business -- at least exploring Android as part of its hardware strategy could give the company access to a very large portion of the smartphone market. Do it, BlackBerry. You know you want to.
Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.