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!
If there is one thing that blackberry did not provide to its customers, it would be freedom of customization. Now that it belongs to a new owner, we are eager to see if things will get better but as far as we all know, android managed to beat BB on applications and customization fields only so these are the major points of weakness that should be corrected.
@Yep I had a Palm once also. They got too big and then to narrow and brittle to survive. I think someone rolled them into a new company. BlackBerry are soon to go the same route and frankly I am not unhappy about it.
MobileSuze 10/6/2013 11:19:13 AM User Rank One Bar
Re: Keyboard change
It's a shame that Blackberry just doesn't seem to get their users. Because if they did, then they would make sure to keep the features that their users like and find useful. So really, it's definitely unfortunate.
Horizon777 10/5/2013 2:23:25 AM User Rank Five Bars
Just yesterday I heard an executive say that he missed the old keyboard of BB that had a physical touch of buttons. By giving the keyboard a touch sense, BB has reduced a major advantage that it had over Apple and Android phones.
Horizon777 10/5/2013 2:12:20 AM User Rank Five Bars
Re: Something Else to Think About
Lee Allen, that's a sad finding that BB doesn't have a field on its website where users can give their feedback and suggestions or ask questions. Looks like BB hasn't still gotten out of the medieval times' sales methodology. True about the not mixing with new industry partners and techniques after being a pioneer.
Wirelessroamer, I understand what you mean, but in many businesses the pressure to introduce other types of devices is at the whim of the CEO or the president of the company. That's how IT ended up enabling all these devices on corporate networks. And also many businesses would like to exploit that and not have to purchase employees phones. But then they lose control. It's definitely a catch-22.
@Netcrawl. Microsoft lagged behind expectation in mobility. In common perception, they remained hopeless compared to their counterparts. They tried to make an impact with Nokia Lumia but could be fetch good deals. That's very true that they are trying to spread their tentacles in various areas but plenary success seems to be going out its catchable reach.
@Susan: I guess only Toby can answer that. In setting the rules for tens of thousands of "real world" Business phones I had to look at the Business needs of the companies not the whims of the employees who use their own phones at work as a privelige not a right. Historically every employee who needed a Business phone got one. I have had a business mobile since 1990. I still use a Blackberry because it is fit for Business (runs all the business Apps I need) and have a personal iPhone which I am careful not to use for work because it is not fit ...... It is too soon or maybe too late, depending how it turns out to see if the Blackberry Fusion option to run Android and Apple Apps on the BB platform makes a difference.
An interesting twist I found out today in a UK Government meeting was that BB are the most popular phone amongst the Bums and Homeless because BBM runs without credit on the phone... I'll have to remember that :-)
@Susan I belive Microsoft is making some good progress when it comes to apps, they're in the process of rebuilding their resources. With Nokia at their belly, things just get better for Microsoft. Imagine the combined strengths of the two companies- the scale and reach.
Microsoft is also getting bigger in enterprise world. They got a cloud-based services- Azure and more, I'm not seeing any slowdown here, it seem that the company is moving fast, they taking share from BlackBerry.
I'm wondering if Toby meant that in the "real world" clients he deals with, the end-user demand is not there for BlackBerry devices, so they are simply not a choice for these companies. If they wanted to deliver very secure mobility, they would need to provide every employee with a BlackBerry, and then a lot of users would also have a personal phone, ending up in the multiple phone situation. I think what people really want is apps, and both BlackBerry and Windows are not living up to that, so users are not really able to utilize one secure device for home and work.