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BlackBerry is setting the stage for life after it quits making BlackBerrys

BlackBerry hopes Android owners will pay 99 cents per month to use its software on their devices.

BlackBerry CEO John Chen
Asa Mathat

With BlackBerry moving its phone efforts onto Android, the company is trying to salvage what good ideas it can from the spectacular flop that was the BB10 operating system.

The company is taking the Hub feature, which brings together email, social media and messaging into one spot, and making it available as an Android app via the Google Store.

BlackBerry Hub+ will run on all Android phones with the Marshmallow version of the operating system, with a 30-day free trial. After that, BlackBerry says it will charge 99 cents per month for its suite of Android software, which includes its take on contacts, notes and tasks as well as on-device search.

The move to offer the Hub broadly for Android could be preparation for BlackBerry’s next life, in which the company doesn’t make its own phones. CEO John Chen has said he would exit the hardware business if he couldn’t turn things profitable this year.

And that hardware effort appears to be on the ropes. The initial Android phone, Priv, a sleek slider phone, did not sell well. The company’s just-introduced second Android phone, the DTEK 50, is a rebadged version of Alcatel’s Idol 4. While that cuts down the design costs and manufacturing risks, it would also appear to make it hard for BlackBerry to stand out.

Chen has said in the past he wants to see BlackBerry’s software on other companies’ phones.

“We are going to build a business on putting [our software] on other people’s devices,” Chen said at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last year, referencing the Hub as a possible option. He also said he might be open to licensing some features to other phone makers.

BlackBerry has already brought the BBM to Android and iOS, though perhaps a little too late to capitalize on what was once a very popular chat platform.

Chen knows that if BlackBerry’s future is one that doesn’t include phone hardware, it needs a strong business in software. He’s been working hard in that area, making sure BlackBerry’s core server software can manage all kinds of devices and also looking to create consumer businesses where he can.

Software is already on pace to generate $500 million in annual revenue, though BlackBerry still gets a lot of revenue from hardware.

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