A month ago, I was optimistic that BlackBerry could pull it off. Today, the Waterloo, Ont.-based smartphone giant’s future is murkier than ever.
For a little while there, BlackBerry seemed to be turning a corner.
First, there was the attempt by Fairfax to take BlackBerry private. This was something I’ve been calling necessary for several years – BlackBerry needs to get out from under public investor scrutiny and expectation and execute a long-term strategy without ill-informed financial analysts that falsely expect them to be Apple peering over their shoulders. Going private would allow for much-needed breathing room.
Second, there was the strategic shift to focus on fewer phones, abandon the largely fruitless consumer play that has brought the company to the brink and seen it bang its head against the wall fighting Apple and Android, and focus on what it’s good at – the commercial space. It was another shift I’d long been hoping for. BlackBerry is still very good at building secure phones for enterprise users. Granted, it’s a fraction of the overall smartphone market, and one under pressure from the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend, but there’s a solid market there and one BlackBerry can approach from a position of strength.
Now, it’s all up in the air. Fairfax couldn’t secure the financing to take the company private, and no other suitors have stepped up. They were either chased off by the government (Lenovo) or chased off by the company’s books. Also chased off is BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins – as part of the Fairfax consolation prize – a one billion cash investment – Heins is being shown the door.
I’m not choked up about the departure of Heins – he wasn’t the man to turn this ship around – but uncertainty does reign again as the search for his replacement begins. It’s unclear if the strategic shift to the commercial space will continue or if a new CEO will have other ideas, and it’s also unclear how long that billion dollars will last if the company keeps burning through cash.
The thing is, product wise, BlackBerry has made solid progress. I’ve been using the new Blackberry 10 OS for a few months, and I’m loving it. After a brief learning curve, I’m finding it incredibly intuitive, and easier to use than Android by far. My day-to-day smartphone is the Q10, and it’s full of QWERTY goodness. I’ve also been testing the Z30, the 5” touchscreen model that is/was to be BlackBerry’s new flagship. It has a gorgeous display, is well engineered, and has amazing battery life.
It’s long been clear though that great technology alone will not save BlackBerry. At this point, sadly, it’s not clear what will.