BlackBerry CEO Considers Quitting the Hardware Market

Once upon a time, BlackBerry was the unchallenged leader of the mobile phone market. They were the darlings of the business community, and their brand had become all but synonymous with mobile communications. But that was at the turn of the last century, and BlackBerry’s market share has been in decline ever since, steadily losing ground to its rising competitors. Now, Apple, Android, and others have all carved out their own substantial pieces of the smartphone market, leaving BlackBerry with an increasingly smaller portion of the pie. But the innovative Canadian firm has soldiered on, designing and releasing new handsets which it hoped would return them to their rightful place as an industry leader. Unfortunately, BlackBerry’s latest offerings have failed to capture the imagination of the buying public, and now CEO John Chen says it may be time for the company to abandon the handset market all together.

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Shifting Sales

BlackBerry has fought the good fight over the last few years, even as they have watched their sales continue to decline. In 2011 they were shifting a respectable 13 million units a quarter, more than enough to keep the company profitable. However, this year BlackBerry’s sales dipped to an all time low, selling a disappointing 1.1 million units in the first quarter. This despite the release of several promising new handsets. Indeed, BlackBerry’s Passport and Porsche models ticked all of the right boxes, and the return of the BlackBerry Classic was well received by industry insiders. Still, the public appears to have taken little notice, and now the time may have come for some hard decisions. According to Chen, the firm’s current CEO and head of marketing, if BlackBerry can not sell at least 5 million units per year they may have to consider turning their back on the hardware end of the smartphone market.

One Last Hurrah

Of course, BlackBerry made their name as the little company that could, and they are not going gently into that good smartphone night. In a last bid to reclaim some of their lost market share they are readying the release of their latest device – the BlackBerry Priv. With an emphasis on privacy and security, the Priv combines the best of classic BlackBerry features with the popular Android operating system. This will be the first BlackBerry device to run anything other than the firm’s own proprietary software, and the firm hopes that this move will lure customers back into the fold. According to Chen, “Priv combines the best of BlackBerry security and productivity with the expansive mobile application ecosystem available on the Android platform. This phone is the answer for former BlackBerry users who miss the physical keyboard but also need apps”.

Service and Software New Priority

Still, BlackBerry hasn’t put all of its eggs into one basket, and Chen has taken steps to ensure the longevity of the company should it become necessary to abandon smartphone manufacturing as the firm’s main focus. Over the last several years, the company has been steadily building up its service and software divisions, and has recently made a bid to purchase rival software developer Good Technology. This move will give BlackBerry something of a default position, allowing them to shift focus to software as service should their latest devices fail to perform as expected on the hardware end of the mobile communications market. That being said, there is still a lot riding on the success of the BlackBerry Priv, any default positions notwithstanding.

BlackBerry’s fortunes may have taken an unfortunate turn over the last decade or more, but there may still be some life left in the former industry leader. Recently launched handsets like the ‘Venice’ and the ‘BlackBerry Passport’ have demonstrated that the firm is ready and able to respond to the changing smartphone market, and those devices have received generally positive reviews from industry insiders including – a major player in the mobile sales niche. BlackBerry’s new ‘Priv” shows even greater promise, though whether or not it will be enough to put the firm over the 5 million unit mark is obviously difficult to predict. The public has largely turned away from the BlackBerry brand, and ‘Priv’ may ultimately prove to be the company’s Waterloo. Still, it would be a shame to have to say good-bye to a brand that helped define the very culture of mobile communications.