BlackBerry squashed – can it be saved?

November 11, 2014 : TECHFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedinmail

BlackBerry squashed can it be saved

It seems like barely a month goes by these days without more tales of woe emerging from the Canadian headquarters of BlackBerry. What was once a byword for sophisticated, market-leading smartphones has seen its sales collapse in recent years as more of its once-loyal customers have increasingly succumbed to the warm embrace of Apple and Android and their shiny touch screen devices.

Last week, the firm's latest results revealed it had lost $5.9 billion (£3.55 billion) in its last financial year. And it's a sign of the times for the company that the $433 million it lost in the previous quarter counts as a good result, as it was far less than expected.

But new chief executive at the firm John Chen was surprisingly upbeat about the latest figures, saying he was "very pleased" with the progress the company is making. He added: "BlackBerry is on sounder financial footing today with a path to returning to growth and profitability." 

Yes, his predecessor Thorsten Heins said much the same thing throughout his tenure, and it seems BlackBerry has been confidently forecasting for a while now that the upswing is just around the corner, but this time, the company is serious about its future prospects. 

And some of its remaining users may be hopeful the current turnaround plan delivers on its promises, as the BlackBerry brand still enjoys loyalty among select fans who will be hoping the company can pull out of its slump, so they don't have to make the switch to iOS or Android.

At BlackBerry's peak in June 2010, it was responsible for more than four out of ten smartphones in use in the US, according to figures from comScore. But by January this year, just 3.1 per cent of users in the country used BlackBerrys. So what went wrong for the company, and can it really be saved? 

Fall from grace

Bank in the early days of the smartphone, when being able to read emails on the move was still somewhat of a novelty, BlackBerry found a home in the hands of busy businesspeople around the world, who loved its business-grade security and connectivity, as well as the physical keyboard that made typing out professional messages a breeze. 

Even the most powerful man on the planet was a fan, as it was reported that US president Barack Obama wouldn't be giving his up in favour of the more usual ultra-secure communications when he took office. 

Meanwhile, a second group of users also turned out to be teenagers, who loved the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) app that let them chat for free with their friends – a few weeks of a typical 16-year-old's everyday thoughts could probably pay back the cost of the phone in money saved on SMS messages. 

But things started to turn south for BlackBerry after the launch of the iPhone – and the huge range of Android-powered imitators that soon followed. Suddenly, BlackBerry's problem was that it was just a bit old-hat. In a world where you could switch between watching your favourite TV show, playing a few levels of Candy Crush Saga and doing your internet banking, the limitations of the BlackBerry operating system became all too clear.

Android and Apple's wide range of enterprise apps and much-improved security features tempted away the business users, while the emergence of tools such as WhatsApp and Vine grabbed the attention of the BBM-loving crowd. And as a result, BlackBerry was left without a selling point.

Can it bounce back?

The catalyst for BlackBerry's turnaround was supposed to be the launch of its much-awaited BB10 update last year. And the first launch of the flagship Z10 certainly made waves – though not for the reasons BlackBerry intended – as it ditched the iconic keyboard in favour of an identikit touch screen that made it look just like any other phone you'd see in the shop.

Perhaps recognising that abandoning the one thing you have left to identify yourself as a company might have been a bad move, BlackBerry has changed course again, with Mr Chen promising that its future focus will be very much "keyboard centric" and build on its strong brand presence among professionals.

As a result, his vision will see the company double-down on its core business customers and aim to claw back its status as the number one option for enterprise users everywhere. Whether this works remains to be seen – with even Mr Chen rating its chances of success as "50-50" in a recent interview with the Financial Times. But as BlackBerry also seems to have finally figured out what its loyal users want and is acting on this feedback and stemmed the worst of the bleeding, BlackBerry might just have a future after all.

This entry was posted in TECH and tagged on by sarahstooks
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