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BlackBerry Aims to Show Its Software Side in Barcelona

The company aims to bring classic features from BlackBerry to other devices.

Asa Mathat

BlackBerry CEO John Chen has made a bold promise, saying that the company needs to have $500 million in software revenue this year. In Barcelona, the company is talking about some of the products that it thinks will get it there and beyond in the coming years.

BlackBerry already has shifted its server software to manage devices from rivals, including Android, iOS and Windows phones. On Sunday, the company is detailing plans to bring some features from BlackBerry devices to those phones as well.

The company aims to bring three areas of features from BlackBerry to other devices: Email/productivity, communications and security. On the list of potential features that may make their way to the iPhone and Android are the company’s software keyboard and its BlackBerry Hub which brings together email, social networks and instant messaging conversations in a single place. BlackBerry started down this path last year by bringing BBM to non-BlackBerry devices.

“We are going to build a business on putting [our software] on other people’s devices,” Chen said in a briefing with reporters. Over time, BlackBerry is even open to licensing some features directly to other device makers.

While a big initiative, Chen said the effort will take most of this year to get ready, meaning it won’t be a big contributor to reaching that $500 million target, which Chen said remains the goal.

As for when the company can get its software business to be as big as its hardware unit, Chen says that will be a while yet. (Hardware still accounts for nearly three-quarters of company revenue.)

Also tricky will be bringing BlackBerry security and other features to iOS, where Apple offers very little low-level access to developers. Chen concedes that the company expects to bring more on Android than it can on iOS.

Another important program is the company’s partnership with Samsung. The company is announcing an expansion of last year’s deal that will see BlackBerry offer two new capabilities on Samsung devices. One, called WorkLife, allows business users to have separate work and personal phone numbers using a single SIM card, with the billing able to be split as well. A second feature will allow Samsung devices to benefit from BlackBerry’s security know-how to offer hardware-based encryption for voice, data and texting.

All this attention to software is not to say the company is giving up on phones, Chen stresses, adding it will discuss its hardware plans at an event on Tuesday.

“I obviously love the software business,” he said. “This is not to say I am not interested in the handset business.”

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