Poor Blackberry – they’re getting a little bit desperate. They’re haemorrhaging cash, laying off many of their staff and desperately trying to pull up from a nose-dive caused by technology shifting and their company being unable to keep up – compounded by the disastrous failure of the Blackberry Q10 to win back our hearts and minds. With the latest moves though, I’m wondering if they’re a in death spiral?
Earlier this week CEO John Chen announced a bold new solution: Umm… start manufacturing the old phone again.
His plan is to rejuvenate the Blackberry Bold 9900 – which was popular a few years ago by upgrading it to run BB10, the latest version of the Blackberry operating system. What will make the phone unique is that – going against trend – it will come with a full QWERTY keyboard, marking a big reversal from BB dumping the keyboard with the Q10.
Now, sometimes the old can be better than the new – just look at Windows 8 or the third and fourth Terminator films as proof. But this just seems bizarre – the market has very definitely moved on and voted in favour of trading buttons for on screen keyboards that create more screen real estate.
Just because something worked years ago doesn’t mean it will work today – especially if the circumstances are completely different. The “I prefer a full keyboard” crowd is shrinking as more and more people are (essentially forced) to pick up a touchscreen device – training themselves on the new piece of kit. Would you switch back now?
The other problem for Blackberry is that there is still going to be the chronic lack of apps. All of the hardware keyboards in the world can’t make up for the fact that Blackberry 10 lacks many of the apps we’d consider standard on iPhone or Android. And it simply isn’t easy. The fact there has to be an installation guide for Vine for Blackberry says it all. (Also, unsurprisingly, Vine for Blackberry appears to be unofficial and not officially supported by Twitter, who own Vine).
The one ace the company does have up its sleeve is BBM. The messaging platform, which was wisely expanded to support iOS and Android isn’t doing too badly – it now has 85 million users. Whilst this is dwarfed by the likes of WhatsApp, it still makes BBM a player in the only messaging space.
Unfortunately, the best thing they could come up with to make money from BBM is by selling premium “stickers” which can be bought for a couple of pounds and lets you send themed emoticons. This was announced yesterday, and is presumably aimed at suggesting to shareholders there is a way to make money from it.
So what to do? Is Blackberry really in a death spiral? At the moment they seem to be a moderately successful app company… but with this weird mobile phone manufacturing division bolted on to the side. It’s hard to see them turning things around without doing something dramatic.
If you had to ask me to make a prediction, I reckon they’ll get snapped up in a year or so by one of the bigger tech players who are wanting to increase their market share and take out a competitor in messaging. Maybe Facebook? They could add 85 million more regular chatters to their already massive suite of similar messaging apps (Facebook messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram) – which won’t make a huge dent, but will mean that the only real competitors would be Apple’s iMessage and Google’s Hangouts. Plus if they need something to do with all of the spare Blackberry engineers hanging around the office, they could always put them to work on figuring out what to do with the Oculus Rift.
By James O'Malley | April 2nd, 2014