Bye Bye Blackberry!

First. Some background.

Earlier today:  the news dropped that BlackBerry could in a matter of weeks be a private company. For those for who that is greek, it means while right now they trade on a stock market and their shares could be bought and sold by anyone, in a matter of weeks, all current shareholders will be given $9.00 for each share they own and BlackBerry will pass from being a publicly owned (or listed) company to being the property of private owners.

Two days ago: a global roll-out of the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service to users on Android and iOS was halted. The reason proffered was that a leaked version of the BBM for Android that had been installed by users the previous week generated data traffic that was far more than that of an average user, as a result of the about 1.4 million new subscribers that jumped on the BBM ship in the 8 hours that it was available, the servers could not handle it – and there was no straightforward way of disabling just the offending version. The roll-out was stopped and is on hold till further notice.

Three days ago: BlackBerry announced preliminary results of it’s Q2 2014 performance advising a potential loss of about $1 billion. Most of this is an inventory write-down, but the picture was still pretty bleak. The company also decided to focus on enterprise and prosumer (they made that word up!) markets – this is effectively conceding defeat to Samsung and Apple, and focusing on where they have strengths – secure mobile communications. They were also scaling back the workforce by more than 4000 workers and planning to cut operating costs by half in 9 months. In other words, a leaner and meaner BlackBerry focused on the enterprise should emerge from this trip to the gym.

So what does all this mean? It’s been a week of pretty bad news and failure to deliver as expected for BlackBerry. But wait a minute, they have been failing to deliver and dropping bad news for a very loooong time! The thing is though, some clarity is beginning to appear in what direction this company might go in the nearest future. I’ve stated to my friends and tweeted to the effect that I was of the opinion that BlackBerry was going to live on only in other devices, as services such as BBM and BlackBerry Balance. This was on the wake of the news that BBM was going cross platform. Following news that the market uptake of BB10 wasn’t that great as well, it was kinda final in my mind that we were seeing the end of business as usual.

For the end user, you can expect to continue to have your existing BlackBerry phones functional, at least the BB10 phones. A Z30 phone is expected to launch as well in the next couple of weeks for those of you who like super-sized screens and the latest specs. I expect that the support for BBOS 7.1 phones will taper away shortly (time to get the wife a replacement to that 9900). Cross platform BBM will come eventually, I believe the idea is to make BBM “the instant messaging” platform for everyone. Given the 1.4 million new users in 8hrs, I do believe this is a dream that might come true. BBM is still the best at IM. I tolerate WhatsApp and it has been massively improved even over the last couple of weeks, but I think BBM can effectively steal market share from them. However the ensuing battle ends, the winner in this case is going to be the consumer.

So why am I saying goodbye? Is the company dead? The simple answer is no, they are probably going to be around for a longer while yet. But just as you don’t usually fire up MicroSoft Lync or Office Communicator for your day to day use outside work, you can expect BlackBerries to steadily morph back into the business tools that they were originally designed as. Both Android and iOS phones are devices fully capable of being used in the enterprise, but neither offer the same level of security BlackBerry has baked into its DNA by default. So for enterprises where that end to end security is a must, you can expect BlackBerry to be an easy sell. But the focus on enterprise and being a niche provider means you shouldn’t reasonably expect to have the latest games and apps available on the BB10 platform. Heck, months after launch you still have to sideload the Android Instagram to use is on BlackBerry.

This is why despite my love and dedication to BlackBerry these last five years (and the Z10 is the best BB I’ve ever used. Period), my next phone will most likely not be a BlackBerry. I will be making a more consumer-centric choice from whatever is on offer at that point. BBM will still be available and linked to my BlackBerry ID (no loses on that end) and my owning a new BlackBerry will be most likely due to my company issuing me one as a function of my role. It’s the end of an era. And it was a great ride while it lasted – a journey filled with delights and frustrations. It’s with mixed feelings that I say goodbye as well. BlackBerry’s story will definitely be debated in many business school cases as an example of how a tech giant became a not so great entity. There are vital lessons there for managers of all ilk. That is not the point of this post though, it’s a farewell. Vale BB.


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