Inside BlackBerry’s last-ditch plan to win you back with Android

Once the mobile maker to beat, BlackBerry is fighting for survival. Its secret weapon: the first-ever BlackBerry phone powered by Google’s Android software.

Most people go to Las Vegas to gamble, party or see a show.

On a warm winter’s day in January 2014, Ron Louks journeyed there to gamble. But he wasn’t trying his luck at the tables. He was there, on one of his first days on the job as head of BlackBerry’s smartphone business, to bet on the company’s future.

After landing in the desert city at the start of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, Louks checked in with BlackBerry CEO John Chen and then set off for his first and most important appointment. Tellingly, it wasn’t with a wireless carrier or one of BlackBerry’s manufacturing partners. It was with Google.

“Android, in our mind, was a longtime coming,” Louks said in an interview last week.

Chen, a software industry veteran hired to help save the Canadian company in late 2013, had already been talking to Google about how BlackBerry could better work with Android, the world’s most popular operating system.

The next step was up to Louks, who previously worked at HTC and Sony Ericsson.

Nearly two years after that Vegas meetup, BlackBerry is getting ready to sell the $700 BlackBerry Priv, its first smartphone not powered by the company’s own mobile software. Chen and Louks hope that by tying their fortunes to Android, BlackBerry will do something it hasn’t been able to do in five years: win over customers who abandoned its once-almighty keyboard-based gadgets for Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy phones.

If the Priv is a flop, that will likely spell the end of the BlackBerry smartphone.

“If this doesn’t resonate with users, there’s not much else they can do,” said Chris Hazelton, an analyst at 451 Research.

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