CES 2019: BlackBerry boss buoyant as firm now focused on cybersecurity

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BlackBerry boss John Chen has hailed the company’s resurgence after moving away from smartphone manufacturing.

The company endured a torrid time in the wake of the launch of touchscreen smartphones such as the iPhone and Android devices from firms such as Samsung – which took market share from the firm’s own predominately keyboard-based devices.

Mr Chen said BlackBerry was now “focused on being a leader in cybersecurity” and said the last quarter was the company’s “best financial performance in seven years”.

However, he did confirm the company would continue to license its names for use by other manufacturers on some phones, but admitted indifference to the growing trend for foldable smartphones.

“I am no longer in the hardware technology so if somebody wanted to build a foldable phone, the technology is likely to come from the Chinese or Samsung – people who do displays,” he said.

(Martyn Landi/PA)
The Royole FlexPai foldable phone is on display at CES (Martyn Landi/PA)

“If somebody comes to me and says they want to build a foldable phone using BlackBerry software and name and distribute it on a worldwide basis, we would definitely be interested, but if you tell me two years from today, ‘I don’t have a foldable phone and everybody else does’, would that upset us? No, not really.”

BlackBerry is currently in the process of acquiring artificial intelligence and cybersecurity firm Cylance for 1.4 billion dollars (£1 billion), which is proof, Mr Chen said, of the progress the firm has made.

“When I first joined five years ago, we owned people more than 1.4 billion, we didn’t really have cash and we were struggling to get cash flow,” he said.

“So people now ask me, ‘How are you guys doing?’ I say, ‘Well, we’re doing well enough to sit down and write a 1.4 billion dollar cheque. In addition to that, we still have a billion dollars in the bank.”

Mr Chen was speaking at technology show CES, where BlackBerry is among the thousands of companies taking part in the tech industry’s largest annual trade show.

He said BlackBerry would look to embed its software, security and privacy technology in connected devices in 2019, including smartphones.

Chris Price