AH TechTalk: Should Samsung Buy BlackBerry?

In the last couple of days, we've seen Samsung linked with buying BlackBerry, something quickly denied by both manufacturers. And it's been a while since another company has been linked with a story about buying BlackBerry and I thought it sensible to dig a little deeper into what BlackBerry bring to the industry, because for some readers it might be a little surprising how deep their roots go. To summarise, there are four legs to BlackBerry's business: handsets, enterprise solutions and QNX. Let's take a look at these and how Samsung might benefit from BlackBerry.

When it comes to handsets, BlackBerry is in something of a mess. Their products are pleasant to use and in some respects, innovative, but are not competitive against the iPhone and Android competition. There's no cell phone hardware keyboard like a BlackBerry keyboard, but hardware keyboards are out of fashion. BlackBerry 10, based on QNX (more on this later) can handle some Android applications and as a user experience, combines elements of Android and Web OS. I prefer it to Windows Phone, especially as it can run many Android applications. I am trying not to imagine BlackBerry 10 under a TouchWiz interface, but with Samsung's marketing budget, I can see BlackBerry 10 devices succeeding where currently they are not. Samsung already use Android, Windows Phone and Tizen operating systems for their devices: I am not so sure how viable four mobile operating systems is for one business, but I do see Samsung working hard to remove their dependence on Android.

The enterprise solution leg of BlackBerry revolves around the BES, BlackBerry Enterprise Server. This is the corporate device management system that's been in use for fifteen years now through successive generations. It isn't an exciting product, but it brings in the profits year after year: BES is used by thousands of private and public companies across the world and has a proven track record of being easy to administer, easy to deploy and reliable. Samsung's KNOX has been less successful and although Samsung has bolted-on BlackBerry's encryption process, BlackBerry still has market inertia here. Acquiring BlackBerry and of course the BES business would add something to Samsung's bottom line year on and give their engineers more scope for improving KNOX.

And then there's the QNX operating system, which BlackBerry acquired in 2010. QNX has an interesting history, being founded by a couple of students in 1980 and quickly gaining commercial success. It's known for its reliability and is used in a number of different areas including in-car infotainment (Apple's CarPlay runs over QNX), aerospace, defence, security, medical and safety-based embedded systems. QNX's reputation for reliability is because of how the operating system works, which is that almost all processes may be stopped and restarted without impacting another. It's also a lightweight operating system: QNX could evolve into a superb platform for Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, which would put it into direct competition against Samsung's Tizen. If Samsung were to acquire QNX (by acquiring BlackBerry) this would ultimately remove one obstacle in the way of their dominance of the Internet of Things market.

The fourth leg is BlackBerry's patent portfolio. It's difficult to value a patent, but the overall could top billions of dollars simply because a patent protects the business from being sued. BlackBerry owns many encryption patents too, somewhere over 130 and many of these are used by government agencies. The perception of cybercrime is that it's rising and so these patents' value could increase over time and more and more people wish to keep their information safe. Google bought Motorola for the patents, which it's using for the benefit of all Android manufacturers. It's the patent portfolio that's probably the most valuable part of BlackBerry, but a very difficult part of the business to value!

If Samsung were to buy BlackBerry, I would expect the business to suffer from indigestion for at least a year at it absorbs the various components and integrates them into its own business. The new Sam-Berry business would have many challenges but also many opportunities; when I look to Samsung at the moment I see a business already grappling with challenges and opportunities. I am not so sure that buying another business is the most sensible approach: Samsung has already driven down the Tizen IoT road too far to make a U-turn sensible. On the other hand, from personal experience the best time I deal with a challenge is when I already have another one I am tackling.

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About the Author

David Steele

Senior Staff Writer
I grew up with 8-bit computers and moved into PDAs in my professional life, using a number of devices from early Windows CE clamshells and later. Today, my main devices are a Nexus 5X, a Sony Xperia Z Tablet and a coffee cup.