BlackBerry admits: We could do better at patching
BlackBerry has confirmed that its first Android device, the Priv, will be stuck on Google’s 2015 operating system forevermore, which Google itself will cease supporting next year.
Having been promised “the most secure Android”, BlackBerry loyalists have seen the promise of monthly security updates stutter recently, with distribution of the monthlies getting patchy (no pun intended).
General manager for mobile software at BlackBerry Alex Thurber (who we spoke to back here) confirmed that the aging Priv would not receive Nougat (2016) or Oreo (2017) updates, and couldn’t commit that what he called “transitional” devices such as the more modern DTEK50 and DTEK60 would be on the platform upgrade path to Android N or O.
Speaking about the Priv, Thurber told a mobile fan podcast: “It’s a phone we originally brought out two years ago and in the world of mobile telephones – trying to get a lot of different partners who are involved (a lot comes down to drivers, screen drivers and radio drivers) … to agree to transition to N would not be possible,” he said.
So who owns which device? Here it is important to distinguish between the two “BlackBerrys”.
The “old” BlackBerry, aka TCFKAR*, doesn’t make phones any more; it develops an Android platform and a suite of apps for three regional licensees, the largest of which is BlackBerry Mobile: a new and separate entity that is part of the Chinese giant TCL.
BlackBerry’s first ‘Droid, the Priv, launched in late 2015 on Android 5 Lollipop, at the same time as Android 6 Marshmallow phones began to appear. It was well received here – but BlackBerry struggled to optimise the device. The Priv was dogged by thermal issues, as the Snapdragon 808 struggled to drive the QHD (1440 x 2560) display efficiently. (Some enthusiasts who have downscaled the display claim the most of the issues disappear).
Thurber clarified that ownership of the Priv lies with TCFKAR* while last year’s DTEK models are “owned” by TCL.
Last year TCFKAR* licensed two reference designs from TCL, that TCL had marketed as the Alcatel Idol 4 and Idol 4S. These were tweaked and sold as the the BlackBerry DTEK50 and DTEK60 by TCFKAR*. Ah, but this was an experiment Thurber explained. So the much more recent DTEK60 also appears stranded – and that’s not even one year old.
Samsung’s Galaxy S6 was launched six months before the Priv, but has subsequently received a Nougat update.
For security patches, BlackBerrys can be excellent at times, but of late, it has slipped off its monthly schedule. This makes the claim to make “most secure Android devices” hard to justify.
Google promises that “Pixel phones get security updates for at least three years from when the device first became available on the Google Store, or at least 18 months from when the Google Store last sold the device, whichever is longer. After that, we can’t guarantee more updates.”
Thurber acknowledged that over the transition there have been “some bumps in the road – we’re going to make the process smoother going forward”.