By Taylor Martin | August 20, 2013 6:45 PM
Talk of BlackBerry’s future has been … rocky to say the least. Gloom and doom articles stretch far and wide. And I, personally, have lost a lot of faith in the company and platform. As a long-time BlackBerry fanatic, I grew quite fond of the company and its products. But after waiting for years for BlackBerry 10, a company refresh with new hardware and software, the end result was certainly anticlimactic.
I spent a few weeks with a BlackBerry Q10. I spent most of that time trying to figure out what to do with the thing. There weren’t any of the necessary applications I regularly use. The software was clunky and schizophrenic. And there simply wasn’t much appeal in either the hardware or software, once I finally got my hands on it.
It’s unfortunate, really. And the general consensus isn’t too far off from the conclusions I drew. The company spent the last five years playing catch-up, rather than innovating truly new, awe-inspiring features. The platform, at least on the consumer side, has very little to offer alongside more adept platforms like Android, iOS, and even Windows Phone.
Even by the numbers, the BlackBerry 10 launch wasn’t anything to get excited over. The excitement and anticipation surrounding the launch of BlackBerry 10 only took weeks to wear off, and market share and stock prices continue to slip.
Considering investors and share holders were up in arms prior to the BlackBerry 10 launch, things haven’t really improved on that front. As such, rumors of BlackBerry looking to sell have sprung up recently.
Lending credence to those rumors, BlackBerry came forward with an official statement, explaining that “now is the right time to explore strategic alternatives.”
Of course, what that means isn’t totally clear. For all we know, it could mean a sale is on the table. Or, as other rumors have alleged, the company is looking to merge the core BlackBerry 10 experience with the markedly more popular Android platform.
Also last week, our own Stephen Schenck brought us news that BlackBerry investor Robin Chan developed a strategy for BlackBerry, an “opportunity to re-build the business.” The basic premise of the strategy was for BlackBerry to … sort of pull an IBM – sell its enterprise services and mobile device management for BYOB enterprise customers. It would continue to use its existing or similar hardware, but in essence, BlackBerry would stop development of QNX BlackBerry 10 and shift gears to fork Android development for enterprise-driven software that could be easily applied to practically any Android device.
Chan’s plan obviously never went into effect, but it clarifies one thing: consumers, investors, and pretty much everyone in between has little faith in BlackBerry as a standalone OS and an ecosystem among the likes of Android and iOS.
And it seems like the best solution anyone has to offer is for BlackBerry (the company) to kill BlackBerry (the OS) and use Android instead, with its own spin, much like how Motorola, Samsung, or HTC do with their respective customizations.
Chan’s plan is noble and pretty well thought out. But it reeks of desperation from someone who is neck-deep in an investment on the verge of going belly-up.
Maybe that’s a bit dramatic … or maybe it isn’t. But frankly, it’s a terrible idea.
Practically all BlackBerry has left at this point is threes things: amazing physical keyboards, mobile security and enterprise support, and intellectual property.
Physical keyboards on smartphones are arguably antiquated, and the rest of BlackBerry’s hardware is … uninspired.
Chan’s entire idea rides on the belief that BlackBerry’s enterprise services are up to snuff and … well, better than everyone else’s. There’s a fair argument to be made that they are. There’s also reason for skepticism that they won’t be for long. Samsung and other mobile companies are taking BlackBerry’s elongated lull as the perfect opportunity to sharpen their own enterprise teeth.
This means the entire strategy would rest on the BlackBerry brand, which has undoubtedly seen better days. I can’t help but imagine companies looking for a long-term enterprise solution are fearful of BlackBerry’s future and its continued failure to adapt to the rapidly changing market.
Killing the platform and/or hardware to sell its services to companies using Android or iOS is a bold move, to say the least, which would ultimately be a tougher sale than Chan thinks. Take BBM, for example. BlackBerry has some delusional belief that offering BBM on Android and iOS will be useful or worthwhile. Maybe it thinks BBM will rekindle users’ love for the platform. But BBM as a cross-platform messaging service would be quickly lost in the sea of competitors. It’s a move that’s a few years late and a couple bankers boxes of dollars short.
Enterprise, while there aren’t nearly as many viable competitors, would likely face a similar struggle. There would be no turning back, and the process would likely dilute the brand even further.
However, it appears as if we may never get to that point anyway. Reports that BlackBerry’s patent portfolio could be worth up to $5 billion forces us to believe we won’t have to worry about anything of the sort. With roughly 9,000 patents on the table, a potential of a BlackBerry sale is looking like a juicy steak dinner, and the market’s biggest players are prepping for a feast.