You've probably already read one too many post-mortem analyses of "Why BlackBerry Failed." Most of them, no doubt, made two amateurish assumptions: One, that you've never before seen an example of a prominent company producing a product nobody wanted.
Two, that BlackBerry has failed in its entirety.
If we want to seriously challenge ourselves, we should pose the question of why Prem Watsa -- the man behind Fairfax Holdings whom some call "Canada's Warren Buffett" -- believes the manufacturer he plans to acquire is capable of "pulling off an Apple."
In pondering what I would say for an interview on NTN24 yesterday, I found myself thinking this way: Watsa's Fairfax Holdings isn't really acquiring BlackBerry, but rather the sum of (the remainder of) its parts. Could those parts be reassembled into a profitable institution?
Put aside BlackBerry's outmoded and unwanted devices in your mind. Lay them off along with 40 percent of the company's workforce. What remains in its hand are the following aces:
- An established enterprise customer base in mobile device management, which has recently branched out to include iPhones and Android devices in the mix
- A tremendous patent portfolio, which includes standards for the most secure email transport platform ever conceived, albeit (for the moment) limited to encrypting sessions over single devices that are bound to single users
- Ownership (not just a mere license) of QNX, a virtualization platform for small devices that already enables BlackBerry 10 devices to run Android apps, and which in years past has enabled Windows (not Windows Phone) to run concurrently with another OS on a single processor
Consider that enterprises today continue to demand a more practical, reliable platform not only for securing whatever mobile devices employees bring to their network, but for enforcing policies on those devices. They also prefer the self-provisioning, easy setup model proliferated by cloud services. Amid these clear enterprise customer needs, I propose a reinvigorated BlackBerry (which I would redub "Research in Motion") should deploy the following:
- A cloud-based service, perhaps employing infrastructure resold from Amazon AWS or other providers, in which a business can instantly spin up instances of a mobile operating system capable of running any apps the business chooses.
- A custom user interface (UI) running on QNX in the cloud. Each QNX could emulate whatever OS was needed to run the client's choice of apps in the business profile.
- A thin virtualization layer, freely downloadable and installable on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and others. This layer would exclusively connect with BlackBerry servers in the cloud, providing a live image of the custom UI that can scale up or down, depending on the specifications of its host. Imagine, in other words, something like XenClient, but as a full-time app that gives any smartphone a picture of a much richer operating system running in the cloud.
- A videoconferencing and messaging service linking the cloud-based instance to other cloud-based instances, completely eliminating the communications latency between those instances.
- Mobile device management (MDM) provided to businesses via a cloud-based service for free, for businesses that spin a minimum number of OS instances.
- MDM provided to consumers for a nominal fee, enabling them to create virtual cloud operating systems capable of running all their apps from any device, experience all their video and music from any device, and access all their files from any device.
- BlackBerry secure email, this time bound to each user's secure instance of BlackBerry in the cloud, so that the email client can be run on any device the user so chooses (a modality that was impossible to achieve with multiple concurrent devices, such as a Curve and a PlayBook).
- Integrated Salesforce Chatter, and the ability to run Salesforce apps securely linked to each user right out of the box (the virtual box, that is).
- Integrated Netflix. No description necessary.
- Free licenses for the virtualization client for TV manufacturers. Imagine switching on your Samsung LED TV and being able to run iOS, Android, BlackBerry 10, and Windows from your sofa. Or, better yet, not caring which OS is hosting your app at the moment.
- If the company can't be swayed from building devices, it could produce a thumb-sized receiver unit that outputs to any device using HDMI. The virtualization unit would be embedded on those devices. Suddenly there's a full-featured, real-time computer with ultra-high-velocity connections to Netflix and other servers (because those connections would exist in the datacenter), running on any HDTV on the planet.
With the overflow of revenue RIM would receive from such services, conceivably from consumers as well as businesses, it could afford to produce a few thousand smartphones with keyboards for old times' sake and swallow the loss.
BlackBerry gambled big on the notion that consumers will remain loyal to the brands of their devices, and that businesses would follow in their wake. Both bets were huge losses. A revived RIM has no reason not to bet on the opposite notion: that the real winner in technology will be the company that beats Google at building a single OS that runs everything, everywhere.
Join us on Monday, September 30, at 12:30 ET (9:30 am PT) for a live chat on this topic. Scott Fulton will be in our chat room to discuss the future of BlackBerry and what it all means for the smartphone industry in general. See you in the chat!