BlackBerry Chief Executive Officer, John Chen, has said in an interview that the business may be forced to stop selling smartphones if it is unable to manage a turnaround in sales. The Canadian smartphone maker is currently in the process of reinventing itself as a mobile security expert and third party “enabler” of improved security services to businesses large and small, including Google. The reinvention is combined with dwindling smartphones sales and the reasons for this are many but can be traced back to BlackBerry’s attempts to push into the consumer space, competing its keyboard-equipped devices against Apple iPhone and Android competitors. BlackBerry’s OS 10 was also delayed by around two years, and a lot can (and does) happen in the technology world in two years.
We have seen BlackBerry make some important changes to the device line up since BlackBerry 10 was released a little over two years ago. We have seen a new range of devices, some of which have been very much traditional and others have used a different approach, such as the oddly compelling, squared-off BlackBerry Passport. BlackBerry have outsourced manufacturing to Taiwanese businesses in order to reduce costs and have allowed other manufacturers’ hardware to run BlackBerry OS. Unfortunately, these efforts have failed to stem the fall in smartphones: the last quarterly results showed a smartphone revenue drop of 31%. BlackBerry are retrenching into their old, familiar markets of the professional (enterprise) and government workers, perhaps dropping the less expensive, consumer-friendly models and concentrating on the higher end handsets. Many government departments do not allow employees to bring their own devices (BYOD) or even use work devices for business and this is a key market for BlackBerry. However, if these steps do not stop the drop in sales, BlackBerry will cease selling smartphones – leaving the highly secure market open for competitors such as the Silent Circle Blackphone, which runs a secured version of Android.
It seems that the next twelve months will be critical for BlackBerry. Opinions across the Internet vary as to the viability of the rumored Android-powered BlackBerry devices, but if things do not go well, perhaps the BlackBerry “Venice,” or maybe even the Passport, will be our last chance to pick up BlackBerry hardware.