ANALYSIS: BlackBerry’s smartphone fall from grace is the end of an era but software-focused company has a chance despite previous mistakes
Customers were outraged at being unable to access email, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) and other data services on their beloved devices.
“So I have no email, Twitter or BBM on my BlackBerry,” said one Twitter user at the time. “I may as well cut one of my arms off too *angry face*.”
It wasn’t just the technology press taking note – the mainstream media was too. The news even made BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat bulletins.
Keeping up with the times
Even as recently as five years ago, BlackBerry was still a big deal.But in October 2016, the news that the company will no longer make any smartphones will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed its gradual decline.
In fact BlackBerry has fallen so far away from the public consciousness that many people will be surprised to learn it hadn’t ceased production already.
It wasn’t always like this. Office workers didn’t just have a mobile phone, they had a BlackBerry. Its administration features were valued by IT managers and businesses loved (or loathed) having their email delivered securely to mobile devices.
But the Canadian manufacturer failed to keep up with the times. It’s advantage in security was slowly eroded by the likes of Samsung and Apple, and Blackberry was unable to give end users the devices they desired
The QWERTY keyboard was usurped by the touchscreen and the BlackBerry OS was dated when compared to iOS or Android. BlackBerry 10 was perpetually delayed and although critically well-received, it arrived too late and not even a last ditch switch to Android was able to give it a minor share of the market.
Ever since he was parachuted in to the top job in late 2013, John Chen has been adamant services, software and IoT are the company’s future. He gave every chance for the handset division to become profitable, but it simply hasn’t been able to.
“BlackBerry has succumbed to the pressure so many other phone makers have faced,” said Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight. “It lacks the scale to be competitive in devices and can’t keep producing its own phones indefinitely just to serve a small subset of its clients addicted to its home-grown devices. Having a third party take over manufacturing is sensible however how long that lasts has to be a question mark.
“John Chen made valiant efforts to stay in the device business but ultimately the commercial realities made shutting down that division inevitable – particularly as BlackBerry devices account for less and less of the company’s overall revenues.”
Even still, there are missed opportunities. BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) could, and perhaps should, have gone cross-platform earlier and there are features of BlackBerry OS, such as the hub and its excellent keyboard software, that would also have benefited other hardware.
To the future
The parallels with Nokia are obvious. Both BlackBerry and Nokia were icons of their respective nations. Both were dominant at the turn of the decade. Both have exited the smartphone market after failing to keep up with the times, and both have had to endure painful workforce cuts.
But both have a future. Nokia has merged with Alcatel-Lucent in a bid to establish telecoms equipment dominance and BlackBerry has made a series of acquisitions and product launches in the hope of becoming the mobile security and software vendor of choice for the enterprise.
It looked bleak for BlackBerry back in 2013 and the past few years have not been easy for the company, its employees or even Canada as a country. But a smaller, more focused BlackBerry means it has a future.