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Leaked images claim to show BlackBerry's first Android phone

Have the Canadians admitted defeat at last?

Images have hit the web of what is purportedly BlackBerry's first Android handset.

The photos and short video clips were posted by blogger Evan Blass, aka Evleaks, who got them from an unnamed source. They allegedly show a device to be released later this year as the BlackBerry Venice.

The device itself is a slim, rectangular handset running what looks to be a fairly stock version of Android – although in addition to the Google Drive, Chrome browser, and Play Store icons on the home screen, there are also icons for Microsoft's Bing and Skype.

The real eye-opener, though, is that the device includes BlackBerry's trademark physical keyboard, which slides out from underneath the touchscreen when needed.

The Canadian firm takes its keyboards very seriously. It twice brought patent infringement suits against Typo, a maker of BlackBerry-lookalike keyboards for iPhones, eventually reaching a settlement in which Typo agreed to discontinue its smartphone keyboard line.

Still, some Twitter users were skeptical of Evleaks' images, suggesting they were a hoax.

If the Venice is in fact real, BlackBerry doubtless expects the keyboard to be a top differentiator that sets the Venice apart from other Android handsets.

BlackBerry has not commented on the alleged leak, but rumors that it has been working on Android devices first emerged in a Reuters report in June. At the time, BlackBerry would say only that it remained "committed to the BlackBerry 10 operating system."

But the value of the massive Android ecosystem is clearly not lost on struggling BlackBerry. In 2014, it began rolling out a software update that added Android compatibility to BlackBerry 10, and it inked a deal with Amazon to let BlackBerry users download Android apps from the online retailer's Appstore.

Having taken those measures, marketing a pure Android phone would seem to be a step backward for BlackBerry, which has invested heavily in its own OS over recent years.

Still, in a recent meeting with investors, BlackBerry CEO John Chen reiterated that he was committed to being in the smartphone market, not merely because being in that business is "reputational," but because it's "an entry point to security," which Chen sees as one of BlackBerry's key strengths.

If Evleaks' sources are correct, expect the BlackBerry Venice to launch on all four major US carriers in November of this year. ®

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