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BlackBerry May Quit Handsets if It Can't Make Money by Next Year, Says CEO John Chen

Chen also said that he would consider dropping the homegrown BlackBerry operating system if he can bring key security features to Android.

Asa Mathat

BlackBerry CEO John Chen said Thursday that the long-struggling company that pioneered the smartphone would consider exiting the handset business in a year if it’s not profitable.

Chen had previously said that he would consider exiting the handset business if he couldn’t make money, but declined to provide a timeline.

Even as the company announced plans to ship the next generation of BlackBerry phones that meet government security standards, Chen said that the “business case” would determine whether the Canadian company would make any subsequent devices.

“I’m in the handset business because I believe there’s value added and a market that is underserved,” Chen said Thursday at the Code/Mobile conference at The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

The plain-spoken and sometimes provocative Chen delivered the sober assessment even as he showed off the new Android-powered BlackBerry. The company plans to launch the Priv later this year, a smartphone with a slide-out keyboard, running the Google-sanctioned flavor of Android.

The move to support Android comes as BlackBerry has been losing significant ground in phones, with its market share dipping below 1 percent. Chen has said he has some patience for the hardware market but has indicated that patience is wearing thin and not unlimited.

At the Code/Mobile conference, Chen said BlackBerry’s embrace of the Android platform addresses one of the company’s critical voids — the need for apps.

“What I’m doing [is] taking advantage of what the industry can offer, but not wandering off our core strength,” said Chen. The company has also been moving to get more of its sales from software. Most recently, BlackBerry announced plans to spend $425 million to buy Good Technology, a rival in the business of helping companies manage the mobile devices accessing their corporate networks.

Asked about supporting two operating systems — Android and BlackBerry 10 — Chen said that is the plan for now. However, he added that if he could bring all the security features of BB10 to Android, he would consider dropping BB10 in a year or two.

Meanwhile, the company is a quiet force in the connected car market, thanks to its acquisition of QNX a few years back.

Update: Chen tells The Verge offstage that Blackberry aims to sell 5 million phones per year to get to profitability.

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