Enterprise

Silent Circle Outs Blackphone 2, Blackphone+ Tablet As It Zeroes In On Enterprise Security

Comment

Image Credits:

A sequel to last year’s pro-privacy Android smartphone Blackphone has just been announced, here at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona.

The Blackphone 2 has a more premium look and feel than the original plastic device, with an all-glass front and rear — reminiscent of the design of Apple’s iPhone 4 — along with a larger full HD display, at 5.5 inches across; a faster 64-bit processor and more RAM. It will go on sale this summer.

The company has also shown a prototype eight-inch tablet device, which will be called the Blackphone+, which it’s lining up for a fall release. Development for this is still at a relatively early stage, with an “extended alpha beta program” planned with partners to “see what it is that they are interested in the tablet doing”, as CTO Jon Callas puts it.

“There’s still a number of decisions that we have about where we can go on it. Like aspect ratio. Do we do 16:9, do we do 4:3,”  he tells TechCrunch in an interview.

Blackphone hardware runs a hardened Android fork, called PrivatOS, so it’s also compatible with Android apps.  Last December SGP announced it would be adding in its own app store in an update due early this year — along with a feature called ‘Spaces’ that will let users segment activity on their device by creating multiple secure spaces for particular apps, accounts or data to help balance security and usability.

The original Blackphone project was marketed at prosumers with security concerns. But the Switzerland-based company behind it, SGP Technologies, is now thinking a lot bigger — flush with $80 million in external investment it’s taking in since last May. It’s refocusing on selling security-focused mobile hardware and encrypted comms software to enterprises, with prosumers now its secondary target. Call it a partial pivot, after enterprises liked what they saw with last year’s Blackphone and came calling.

“The prosumer market has been our primary market up until now but we’re making a huge push into enterprise,” says Callas. “Enterprise markets in Europe, South America, Middle East is where we’re going rather than what we started off with — which was the prosumer market. They’re still very important to us and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing with Blackphone [hardware]… but in an organization you’re going to have a wide mix of devices.”

“We know that we are not going to have a company buy only Blackphone devices. There are going to be people who are not going to give up their iPhones. There are going to be people who are going to want some sort of other Android phone, so we’re providing the communications ecosystem and infrastructure that works on any of those devices,” he adds.

Blackphone started out last January as a joint venture between encrypted comms company Silent Circle, which offers secure voice and messaging apps such as Silent Phone and Silent Text, and Spanish smartphone maker Geeksphone. But last week Silent Circle announced it had closed $50 million in new financing — largely from new investors — and was spending some of that on buying out its joint-venture partner.

Some of Geeksphone’s staff — including co-founder Javier Agüera — are moving over to the new wholly Silent Circle owned “single, vertically integrated company”, so it’s retaining mobile hardware expertise (with this ex-Geeksphone team based out of Madrid), even as it shifts focus to selling a mixed and integrated suite of secure hardware and software comms services to businesses.

“It makes it much easier on the company — it means there’s one set of marketing, one set of sales, development and everything else is running together. It’s huge savings for us,” says Callas of the consolidation. Bottom line, the project has proved more successful than the original partners envisaged — and the company now has the investment to think bigger, and restructure to focus on serving enterprise customers.

Also today SGP announced a tablet-based secure audio conferencing system called Silent Meeting, again with enterprise users in mind. The encrypted software will also offer meeting control features such as visibility on who’s dialed in and who hasn’t — designed to make the most of the larger screen real estate of tablet hardware.

Silent Meeting will run on the forthcoming Blackphone+ tablet and also, as with all of SGP’s comms apps, on iOS and Android hardware. So this is about Blackphone riding the ‘bring your own’ (BYOD) device trend which is continuing to remodel how enterprise IT is delivered.

“We’re a communications company that has hardware and software and services. There are a lot of people who would like to have a privacy and security enhanced device like what we’re doing with Blackphone. But we’re also focusing on the communications aspect — because we are a secure voice, video, texting system as well that runs on any Android or iOS device,” says Callas.

“We also have enterprise management software so that you can manage multiple accounts… We have done a recent upgrade to our existing management software, we’ll be doing more integration with enterprise tools, with corporate directories, with other things so that you provide cloud communications — that’s primarily what we’ve been doing with Silent Circle — we have a cloud phone system that lets you do secure calls that are IP calls, and also we connect to the normal telephone system.”

It will also be working more with mobile device management (MDM) vendors and other enterprise tool makers “so that we fit into the ecosystem that they’ve got today”, as Callas puts it.

Is Blackphone seeking to reinventing Blackberry on a more consumer-friendly Android base? Callas resists the comparison, arguing that the enterprise space has moved on and needs secure comms solutions to match — i.e. which can flexibly integrate with mixed mobile estates, and support different types of device deployments.

“Blackberry was very much focused on email. We’re focused on voice communications and texting primarily,” he adds. “The comparison between us and Blackberry has gone on a lot over the last year. And Blackberry themselves started it in many ways. I don’t really think a lot about displacing Blackberry; I am looking at how I supply software and services that my customer needs.

“I’m looking at what enterprises need in the next five years, not what they need in the last five years. It’s a dramatically changed world from when Blackberry was the big player. And that’s part of why they’re having problems now.”

There is still no ‘Silent Mail’ product, of course, after Silent Circle preemptively shuttered its previous encrypted email product, back in 2013, in the wake of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about intelligence agency surveillance — although Callas confirmed it is continuing to work with Lavabit’s Ladar Levison on the Dark Mail project. In the meanwhile its focus is squarely on securing the other bits of mobile comms, including text messaging.

“Mobile devices have been taking over from laptops and desktops by doing the sorts of things people do all the time very well. They do small things very well rather than the kitchen sink,” says Callas. “What we’re looking at the way that we do the business is to make it so that the sorts of communications tasks that people do all the time they would rather do with Silent Circle on our services and our devices better than anyone else’s.”

As well as increased enterprise concerns on the security front, with data breaches and hacks continuing to hit the headlines every week, Callas also points to a cost advantage that it’s hoping will appeal to business users — given Silent Phone and Silent Text route voice calls and SMS away from cellular networks and via encrypted VoIP.

“We are providing a combination of very low cost international calling, and completely secure calling using the Internet,” notes Callas. “The advantage of this is that it means that if you have something like the Gemalto hack that we’ve heard about you’re only using your phone for a TCP/IP or you’re running it over Wi-Fi. That gives you a level of security that you don’t get anywhere else because our voice system is running over IP and thus is protected — even from things like compromised SIM cards.”

More TechCrunch

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

2 days ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’