When I sat down to write this article, I realized that in my time I’ve owned a total of six BlackBerry devices. Three were given to me as work devices, one was given to me for being awesome and the other two were personal choices. My favorite BlackBerry device is the 9700 Bold and I bought mine in January 2010: at the time, it had a great screen, keyboard and battery life. For what I was using the BlackBerry for, this was all I needed. Later on, my BlackBerry Z10 was an interesting device that showed much promise. I’ve watched BlackBerry reinvent its mobile devices through BlackBerry 10, an operating system that in many respects is as compelling as Android but misses out on Google’s support. Today’s news that BlackBerry CEO John Chen has been in discussions with Lenovo, Xiaomi and HTC is interesting, but not necessarily because I think BlackBerry are to merge, buy or be bought by a competitor. No, I think here that BlackBerry is seeking something akin to a strategic alliance. BlackBerry are looking to set up a partnership.
What can BlackBerry bring to the table in any partnership with a successful Android manufacturer? John says that it’s the security, encryption and privacy services that remain in demand in the Chinese markets, which gives scope and opportunities for licensing, distribution and manufacturing. BlackBerry have not focused on the Chinese market, perhaps because it is highly competitive, but it’s also a massive market. BlackBerry could do well with the backing and support of a successful business partner. The right partner would bring a wealth of experience in a market that’s probably quite alien to BlackBerry, something that Samsung appear to be discovering to their cost.
This explains the discussions with Xiaomi and Lenovo, two of the largest smartphone manufacturers in the world and both Chinese businesses. What of HTC? I don’t see HTC and BlackBerry joining forces, but HTC have a record of building devices for other manufacturers so perhaps BlackBerry are looking to put some of HTC’s sparkle into their product lineup? Could HTC be planning on releasing a device running BlackBerry OS 10? Are we going to see Android on BlackBerry devices? Or perhaps there’s another party involved, perhaps somebody behind HTC? This is speculation; there appears to be more mileage in the Xiaomi and Lenovo story. However, deals struck with Chinese businesses do tend to take their time to unwind so I don’t think this story will be playing out until next year.