Blackberry has announced that it’s exploring options for selling the company, but who’s likely — or viable — to want the once-powerful smartphone maker?
Blackberry was once the behemoth of the smartphone scene. I can recall sitting in the audience at Macworld 2008 watching Steve Jobs talk about iPhone market share — and bear in mind, this was 2G iPhone market share — and how Apple had been able to chip away at Blackberry’s commanding lead. That was only five years ago, but now the company sits on less than five per cent global market share, and as has been widely reported just about everywhere online, the board is looking into selling the company off, either as an entire entity, or in parts. Bloomberg suggests it’s been looking into this possibility for quite some time.
Over at CRN, Matthew JC Powell makes the compelling case for why it should be Apple who buys Blackberry. I don’t doubt his logic — many years of knowing the man has taught me, sometimes painfully that it’s hard to fault his logic — or, indeed his contention that the valuable part of Blackberry is in fact the software (and patents) rather than the manufacturing parts of the company.
That’s probably bad news for Canadians, by the way, because it seems entirely likely that Blackberry won’t be sold as a going concern, but as a collection of its parts, and that would almost inevitably lead to job losses.
There’s actually very little that’s wrong with Blackberry’s current run of hardware per se; read my reviews of the Blackberry Z10 or Blackberry Q10 if you need a refresher. Heck, I even rather liked — and still do — the Blackberry Playbook, a very solidly built tablet that just couldn’t capture enough of the market to be a solid contender. Still, Blackberry didn’t do enough — whether you want to look at marketing or just plain consumer appeal — to widen its market.
It was rather telling to me at the Sydney Blackberry 10 launch that CEO Thorsten Heins was repeatedly peppered with questions relating to the consumer appeal of the Z10 handset, and all he could mumble were a few lines about how interesting the camera app was. Again, the camera on the Z10 is OK, but it’s not spectacular, and its timelapse features were quickly cloned for other platforms such as the HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4. Cameras are an important part of the smartphone experience, but you need to have more, and at least on the day, Heins seemed lost for answers as to what that more might be.
In sale terms, it’s clearly the software smarts and the patents that will actually be what’s most desirable, whether it’s Apple, Samsung, HTC or Microsoft that comes calling. Yeah, I don’t discount Microsoft from the bidding, even though plenty of other pundits point to its close alliance with Nokia as being a reason why it wouldn’t be interested. Microsoft knows the value of patents, and especially software quite well, and it’s not as though those “close ties” with Nokia prevented it from naming the HTC 8X the “signature” Windows Phone 8 device, now was it?
Software can be tricky to integrate into existing systems, however; HP famously paid quite a tidy sum for Palm and talked enthusiastically about how WebOS was going to be integrated into just about everything possible. Now, quickly — count how many WebOS devices you own.
Blackberry could face the same kind of hurdles if somebody buys it with the view to making it part of a larger company, although there’s still the prospect of its many communication patents to contend with.
It is always feasible that somebody may take the company private and try to make a going concern of it, although I’ve a gut feel that this would only be an intermediate step, or possibly even one that’s leveraged on the idea of making an appealing sounding bid for the whole company so that the patents and software could be sold off at a profit in order to fund the entire sale.