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BlackBerry CEO hints at dropping handset business if profitability isn't there

The Google Android powered BlackBerry Priv may have more bearing on BlackBerry's hardware business than you'd expect.

It's no surprise to anyone who has followed BlackBerry for the past few years that the company's hardware business has spiraled downward on falling sales. That partially explains why BlackBerry has a Google Android phone called the Priv coming to market soon.

It may not be enough though and BlackBerry CEO, John Chen, publicly admitted that speaking at the Code Mobile conference on Thursday, hinting that BlackBerry may not be in the handset business much longer.

When asked about the BlackBerry phone line future, Chen replied, "Sometime next year we have to make our device business profitable, otherwise I have to rethink what I do there."

Chen noted that there are at least two more BB10 software updates in the works but when pushed on new BlackBerry devices over the next 12 to 24 months, he said "that's going to be dictated by business choices."

Again, this shouldn't be a total shock. But when it's something said publicly by the CEO, it becomes a little more real.

On the plus side -- assuming the worst for BlackBerry's hardware future -- the company has made a very concerted effort in making its apps and services available on other mobile platforms. BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry Blend, BBM Meetings and a number of other titles are available for non-BlackBerry phones.

The company is also focused on security -- a core strength from the early days -- which brings us back to where we started: The BlackBerry Priv.

BlackBerry is touting the Android-powered handset with hardware keyboard as a privacy-centric device, something that surely more than a few Android users will appreciate.

In an ironic way, the Priv with Android could actually help keep the hardware business open. And if not, Chen seems pragmatic enough to accept that fact and move his company forward anyway.