BlackBerry has been in a downward spiral over the past couple of years. Now they’re looking back to old designs and products in an attempt to move forward.
A Brief History
In January 2013, RIM (Research In Motion) changed it’s name to BlackBerry. It wasn’t big news for most consumers since most of them had never heard of RIM even if they owned a Blackberry device. The re-branding came at a time when things were not looking good for the once ubiquitous device maker, having had to reduce their workforce by 40 percent. Things haven’t really improved since then.
BlackBerry’s used to be everywhere. Business professionals in the Enterprise market lived on the platform thanks to the security features that were built into the devices operating systems. This was extremely important to businesses who were sending and receiving highly sensitive information that they couldn’t risk having compromised. RIM relied on relationships with IT directors, who loved the security of the phones, to sell handsets. The IT directors would buy the phones in bulk and deploy them to their employees who also loved the devices, mostly because the BlackBerry’s were far better than what most people bought for themselves when shopping for a personal phone. This was all well and good until the iPhone came out and suddenly the employees of the companies using BlackBerry’s didn’t want to use them, preferring instead to use the phone they bought for themselves. Then Google launched Android and things continued to go downhill at an ever growing pace.
This marked the beginnings of “bring your own device” or “BYOD” deployments. Employees come to work carrying better technology than what’s being provided by the employer, and that’s what they want to use. They don’t want to use technology that feels outdated compared with what they use every day. This has been a growing trend in many companies across the country and, presumably, around the world. This was the point where most analysts feel BlackBerry needed to innovate and make something that people wanted to own. They needed to pivot to something more inline with what their competitors were offering, but felt that they could hold on to the business market.
The Z Series
The BlackBerry Z10 was announced in January of 2013, right around the same time the company changed it’s name. The Z10 is a sleek 4.2 inch screened phone that boasts all of the same features that you’d expect from a modern smartphone. It has 4G LTE cellular data, a fast processor, and a decent camera. It ran on the new BlackBerry 10 operating system, which incorporated multi-touch gestures found on Android and iOS devices. The Z10 had one problem: it wasn’t innovative. BlackBerry saw it as innovative, and if you compare it to the rest of the phones they were making up to that point it was. But when compared to other handsets coming from makers like Motorola, Samsung, and Apple, the Z10 just felt a little flat. According to reviews from most tech sites the phone wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t great. The Z10 was followed in October 2013 by the Z30, a similar design that boasted a larger screen and beefed up internals. Reviews of the Z30 all seemed to agree that it was much better than the Z10, and that if it had been the first BlackBerry 10 device released the platform may have fared better, but offering a flagship phone nearly a year after the initial release of the new operating system left little room for hope.
Back to the Future
BlackBerry’s sales numbers and revenue reports have continued to be far from encouraging. Last week they reported that it’s fourth quarter earnings were down 64 percent from a year ago, and that nearly 68 percent of the devices it sold during that period were running older versions of the Blackberry OS, not the BlackBerry 10 operating software they released with the Z10 and now runs on the Z10 and Z30. Taking this as a sign of where the company needs to go, CEO John Chen has announced that they will be restarting the production of the BlackBerry Bold, a phone that was announced in 2011. This move has been perceived by many in the industry as indicative of the backwards thinking that put the company where it is in the first place. In an industry that moves in a constant “out with the old and in with the new” mentality, bringing back a three year old phone is a dicey bet. Companies that build Android devices, for example, will nudge their consumers into the newest versions of Google’s mobile OS by packing it in with their new handsets, even the entry level budget models.
Mr. Chen stated last month that they would be introducing more models of phones that have physical keyboards in an effort to keep the BlackBerry faithful happy, and that they don’t expect the company to return to being profitable until 2016. BlackBerry has $2.7 billion in their war chest, but with the way they’ve been hemorrhaging cash recently, 2016 seems a long way off. It will be very interesting to see if the company’s current plan of singing to their own choir gets them back in the black.