Time to Flip BlackBerry's Handset Kill Switch
For BlackBerry, it's less a question of when the cash will dry up and more a question of when it will admit it has no future as a handset maker.
Sure, everyone else has been saying this for the Canadian company, but it has yet to admit (maybe to itself, too?) that its hardware days are numbered. In fact, its new interim CEO, John Chen, reiterated to Reuters this month that BlackBerry has no plans to shut down its handset business. He said he could turn the company around in about six quarters. (See: BlackBerry Gets $1B to Drop Sale Search, CEO Resigns and BlackBerry Inks Deal to Go Private.)
But first BlackBerry has to agree on how the turnaround should look. According to one potential bidder, the pension fund Alberta Investment Management, all the country's leading pension funds were looking at proposals to save BlackBerry early this year, but they never saw one strong enough to justify an investment. Leo de Bever, the fund's CEO, told reporters this week that BlackBerry lacked a real plan.
I believe step one of that plan should be admitting and accepting that its days as a hardware maker are numbered. BlackBerry's future -- if there is to be one -- is in enterprise software.
My guess is that this is being tossed around behind closed doors right now. Just today, the company confirmed that it had purchased the French company Scroon, which manages social media content for corporate customers. And Chen, who has a history of turning around companies like Sybase, is experienced in enterprise software. Why would BlackBerry bring in a CEO with no hardware experience (even if only for the interim) if it thought it still had a chance at building handsets?
The writing is in on the wall. So far we've seen carriers like T-Mobile US Inc. stop selling BlackBerry devices in their stores, and its manufacturing partner Jabil is saying it wants out. The new devices might be impressive, but it doesn't matter. Customers aren't buying the devices, and the company is losing support in the supply chain.
All that is left for BlackBerry to admit it's done with handsets, so it can give enterprise software a real shot.
Now, there's no guarantee that a focus on software would save BlackBerry. From my point of view, that ship may have already sailed as enterprises have turned to the iPhone and Android during its struggles. But, frankly, it's BlackBerry's only hope if it wants to continue as a company, rather than, say, selling off its IP and fading away.
There are far worse things stealing the spotlight in Canada right now, but BlackBerry's fresh $1 billion of funding won't be enough to right the ship. It needs a plan, and, without an acquirer in sight, it needs to save itself.
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading