According to a report from Reuters, citing "four sources familiar with the matter", BlackBerry is working on an Android smartphone that combines a touchscreen with a slide-out physical keyboard. The device could be a variant of a prototype smartphone the company showed off earlier this year, which is seen above running BlackBerry's in-house OS.

The company hopes that by releasing a niche Android device with a differentiating feature like a hardware keyboard, they will be able to claw back some of the market share they have lost over the past few years. Currently, BlackBerry commands under one percent of the market, and its phones running BlackBerry 10 simply aren't seen as attractive against iOS, Android and even Windows Phone devices.

The use of Android on this rumored phone will also help BlackBerry transition from a devices company to a software and services company. BlackBerry hopes that their enterprise management system, BES12, will help take the company forward, and its ability to run on rival platforms including Android, iOS and Windows is key to its success.

Reuters' sources say that by launching an Android smartphone, Blackberry would be "sending a signal to skeptics that it is confident that the BES12 system can not only manage, but also secure smartphones and tablets powered by rival operating systems."

BlackBerry's first Android smartphone will also reportedly come with some BlackBerry 10's "patented features". The company has already announced that some of its productivity, security and communication tools will become available on other OSes including Android, so this could be what the sources were referring to.

Despite this rumor, BlackBerry will "remain committed to the BlackBerry 10 operating system, which provides security and productivity benefits that are unmatched". The company declined to comment on its alleged plans to release an Android-powered device.