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CEO John Chen Says BlackBerry Devices Need More Apps, but Won't Confirm Android Plans

Chen says the right approach is more complicated than just running stock Android on BlackBerry devices.

Asa Mathat

BlackBerry CEO John Chen said his company’s handsets need more applications, but stopped short of confirming that the company’s next handsets will run a Google-sanctioned version of Android.

“It is a little more complex, which is why it is not done,” Chen said Friday during a talk at the Churchill Club in Palo Alto, Calif.

Recent leaks have shown upcoming BlackBerry devices with the standard Google Android applications. However, Chen hinted there may be more to it than just plopping stock Android on BlackBerry hardware.

Chen did acknowledge that his company’s recent handsets have not fared as well as he had hoped, in part due to a lack of applications for the devices.

“By any definition it is not a runaway success,” Chen said.

One of the big problems, he noted, is that there just aren’t enough apps for the devices, even with the inclusion of Amazon’s Android app store.

“It’s not competitive to Google Play or the iTunes store,” he said. “We’re working hard at that.”

BlackBerry has also been expanding beyond making its own phones, using its servers to manage other types of handsets, including a deal to work closely with Samsung to help secure that company’s phones for businesses.

“It drives my handset business crazy,” Chen said. But, he said, the company can’t afford to go it alone.

“If you really want to play in the bigger market, you are going to have to be cross-platform,” Chen said. “You are going to have to have partners; otherwise you go away.”

Chen said that he wants to stay in the handset business but reiterated that his patience for losing money is not unlimited.

“If I can’t make money on the phone, I will be out of that telephone handset business,” Chen said in an interview. “There is a timeline; I won’t tell you when.”

Chen also wants to increase the company’s revenue from patent licensing, but says he wants to do so without becoming a patent troll, something he as an engineer finds distasteful.

“On the other hand, we should be able to have people paying for our technology and they should be encouraged to use our technology,” Chen said, pointing to a recent deal with Cisco under which BlackBerry gets revenue and both companies have access to each other’s patents.

Chen said IBM’s patent licensing business represents a good approach to emulate. “If you want to go for that model, it takes time,” he said.

So why try to turn BlackBerry around as a public company under the glare of Wall Street rather than as a privately held company, as Michael Dell is doing? Chen conceded that were he to advise someone in his situation, he would probably suggest they do it as a private company.

“I guess there are people that like pain,” Chen said. “Masochistic, is that the term?”

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