BlackBerry's Chen keeps focus on software deals even as Priv smartphone gets Verizon support

Even as BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) rolls out its first smartphone running a version of Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android platform, the Priv, the company remains focused on bulking up its software prowess and may pursue more acquisitions, according to CEO John Chen.

John Chen BlackBerry CEO


"We are still a $3 billion company and have over $3 billion in cash," Chen said in an interview Friday with Bloomberg TV. "We are pouring most of that into research and development." He didn't say how much the company planned to spend on acquisitions.

BlackBerry aims to reach $500 million in software revenue by the end of its current fiscal year at the end of March 2016. The company has made five acquisitions in the last 20 months, Chen noted in the interview, including a $425 million deal in September to buy rival enterprise software security specialist Good Technology.

Chen said in October the company would consider getting out of the smartphone business in a year if it's not making money selling phones. Chen told The Verge that he aims to sell 5 million smartphones a year, which will be the level the company needs to make the handset business profitable. In its most recent fiscal quarter, BlackBerry recognized revenue on just 800,000 devices in the quarter, or a third of the number from a year ago.

"We lost our number one position a number of years ago in 2007. Everybody had a BlackBerry back then," he said Friday. "If we don't get a good hardware business going, we will more consider the software side."

BlackBerry got a boost on Friday when Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) said that it will soon carry the Priv, though it did not provide a specific launch date or pricing.

The Priv retails for $699 unlocked. AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) is selling the phone for $250 with a two-year contract or for 30 monthly payments of $24.67. The unlocked version of the phone will work on T-Mobile US' (NYSE:TMUS) LTE network but BlackBerry has not said if it will partner with Sprint (NYSE: S) or U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM).

The Priv is in some cases more than $100 cheaper than prices for Samsung's Galaxy S6 Edge and Galaxy S6 Edge + phones, while it sits between the $649 price for the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 6s and the $749 price point of the iPhone 6s Plus.

The Priv sports a 5.4-inch dual-curved screen, a slide-out Qwerty keyboard, 18-megapixel camera and a battery life that promises 22.5 hours of continuous use. To set the Priv apart from other Android phones, BlackBerry has put special software on the phone, including new encryption technology and an alert system to tell users when social-media apps are tracking their locations. BlackBerry also says customers can easily monitor the security level of their phone and know what apps access their microphone, location, camera and other personal information.

Early reviews of the Priv were mixed, with many professional reviewers praising the phone's design and features but lamenting its high price tag.

For more:
- see this Bloomberg article 
- see this Reuters article 
- see this Re/code article 
- see this Computerworld article 

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