John Chen's Plan to Save Blackberry
February 24, 2014 6:57 PM   Subscribe

John Chen's Plan to Save Blackberry Over all, Chen wants BlackBerry to transform itself from being a “mobile technology company” that pushes handset sales to “a mobile solution company” that takes a broader approach to serving the mobile computing needs of its customers. Remaining in the handset business is important—for now, at least. “I think devices are still one component of the solution,” Chen says. “The question is, Do we need to be in the device business? That remains to be seen.”
posted by modernnomad (54 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think the market answered that question pretty decisively
posted by clockzero at 7:12 PM on February 24 [7 favorites]


Having cornered the "crappy OS business" and the "horrible GUI business" I hope they move on to conquer the "paperweight business."
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:15 PM on February 24 [4 favorites]


to “a mobile solution company” that takes a broader approach

Oh god. They're even more screwed then I previously thought possible.
posted by schmod at 7:19 PM on February 24 [9 favorites]


Staying in the handset business implies they still have money they haven't lost yet.
posted by tommasz at 7:21 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


can they make a Raspberry Pi Blackberry. they have my idea for free.
posted by Bwithh at 7:23 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Ford Planning to Drop Microsoft for BlackBerry in Its Car Technology System

Ford Motor Co. (F), struggling with in-car technology flaws, will base the next-generation Sync system on BlackBerry Ltd. (BBRY)’s QNX and no longer use Microsoft (MSFT) Corp.’s Windows, according to people briefed on the matter.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:27 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


On preview… Dammit Blazecock!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:28 PM on February 24


But BBM is coming to Windows Phone! THEY ARE SAVED!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:28 PM on February 24


Like many former “CrackBerry” addicts, Chen converted to an Apple iPhone years ago, switching back when he joined BlackBerry. It took him a while to get used to the BlackBerry 10 operating system, but now, “I never use the iPhone any more,” he says. “The iPhone now feels like a toy. I don’t think you’ll find [I’m] the only person saying it.’”

Blackberry reminds me of Britney Spears during her shaved head phase or even Justin Bieber right now.All three have a huge entourage that basically follows them around, spitting how awesome and close to the edge they are.

But really, this entourage just insulates them from the real world, and they have no idea whats going on with the rest of the world.

The handset business was already unprofitable; thanks to the BlackBerry 10 flop, now it had become the source of billions of dollars in writedowns. “We missed one step, which was to educate the market up front” about the changes, Chen says. “We [thought] that if we built it, everybody will love it.”

So sad.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:33 PM on February 24


I don't see them staying in the handset business, but if they can offer a secure cross-platform messaging system that is widely adopted by enterprise, that along with their ownership of QNX for all kinds of 'back end' systems seems to be the basis of a profitable company. They won't be the RIM of yesteryear, and I think in the consumer space they're finished, but I think there's still markets out there they can exploit.
posted by modernnomad at 7:34 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


The company has valuable IP. Even if it folds, which seems unlikely, its technology assets will live on.

Now, some night, you get a little too artistic, wind up in a clinic tank, spare parts.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:35 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]


Can't they just develop an app for the iphone. When you start it up, it gives you the oid gui and you can do whatever it is you need to...like a blackberry emulator.
posted by hal_c_on at 7:36 PM on February 24


For all the monetizing operational synergy and empowering mission-critical, out-of-the-box core competencies that business do, I think being a "solutions" company is the worst.

I've had job offers from companies before where I've pulled up the website, and simply cannot figure out what it is they actually do because they're a "solutions provider for the technology industry" or some such nonsense.

It usually seems to be a generic IT contractor sort of affair, but sometimes they do infrastructure, sometimes they (poorly) develop software, sometimes they just sell repackaged hardware. Sometimes it's phones, or accounting, or they get really meta and the solution they provide is the solution to determining what the hell their client wants and then placing them with another solutions provider who actually does what they need.

But unless RIM's going to leverage their market lead in horribly outdated hardware or inflict the last decade's GUI on some other manufacturer's hardware . . . my guess is they don't have any more idea what they actually want to do than I do.
posted by Vox Nihili at 7:38 PM on February 24 [7 favorites]


So you're saying John Chen is the Dotcom to Blackberry's Tracy Jordan?
posted by deathpanels at 7:38 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


“a mobile solution company” that takes a broader approach to serving the mobile computing needs of its customers

Is there some sort of intervention that can be staged when administrators start talking like that, or is it already far too late?
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:43 PM on February 24 [7 favorites]


“The question is, Do we need to be in the device business? That remains to be seen.”

When you have no business at all, much remains to be seen.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:44 PM on February 24 [4 favorites]


To be fair, this strategy also worked for a former industry titan with three letters for a name.
posted by Apocryphon at 7:45 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Um, Somewhat recently; "BlackBerry stock soars on word of Pentagon order." January 21, 2014 http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-57617564-94/blackberry-stock-soars-on-word-of-pentagon-order/

"The US Department of Defense announced last week that over the coming year it would be bringing "new mobile capabilities to as many as 100,000 DOD users." The agency said that it "currently supports 1,800 unclassified mobile devices," including items like iPads, iPhones, Samsung 10.1 tablets, and Motorola Razr, and "also supports 80,000 BlackBerry phones." The 80,000 phones referred to already existing devices, but many of us in the media believed the number was related to new orders."

Don't understimatimate big government mometum and their inability to change. Blackberry persists.
posted by vapidave at 7:47 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


But BBM is coming to Windows Phone! THEY ARE SAVED!

Any more saved than they were coming to iOS or crapdroid? WP is the fastest growing mobile OS and it kicks ass- why would BBM not eventually come to it?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:48 PM on February 24


It seems to me the only asset they have is the name "Blackberry". Slap it on an Android clone with a bit of RIM whoofle dust sprinkled on top and there's your business model...
posted by jim in austin at 7:49 PM on February 24 [4 favorites]


Per Blazecock Pileon's link, Ford Motor Company has just committed to purchasing Blackberry's product for use in its cars, in place of Microsoft. Don't people think that meets the definition of "serving the mobile needs of [Blackberry's] customers?" It's not the halcyon days of 2001-05 or so when Blackberry ruled and every lawyer and bureaucrat in the western world proudly toted a Blackberry with them 24/7, but I'd say getting your technology put into every car made by Ford Motor Company is a pretty enviable place to be for most technology companies; no?

Also, on preview, what vapidave notes about the DoD order. If I owned a tech company, I'd be happy to have 80,000 dedicated government contract users.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 7:50 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]


"To be fair, this strategy also worked for a former industry titan with three letters for a name."

Heh, was just checking the five year IBM vs AAPL.
posted by vapidave at 7:56 PM on February 24


Man. I remember when the iPhone first hit, and everybody was like, "I can't type without a real keyboard! I'll never give up my blackberry!"

And I remember when the iPad first hit, and everybody was like "iPad? It's like a panty-liner, right?"

Anyway, I remember stuff.
posted by valkane at 7:58 PM on February 24 [16 favorites]


Blackberry, a company that basically makes a fancy messaging app that comes with a free (shitty) phone, got beat by a nearly-free service that's apparently worth $19B. At WhatsApp's per-user valuation, BBM is apparently worth something like $3.5B of BBY's $8.7B market cap. And once you sell off facilities and IP it's probably a pretty good deal.


basically, BBY fucked up by not selling to facebook.
posted by GuyZero at 7:59 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Heh, was just checking the five year IBM vs AAPL.

IBM's stock may have mediocre performance, but at least they're still listed. It's more than you can say about DEC or SUN.
posted by GuyZero at 8:00 PM on February 24


And I remember when the iPad first hit, and everybody was like "iPad? It's like a panty-liner, right?"

Well, that was the joke on the name. The real criticism was "It's just an oversized iPhone. Who'd want that?"

Which was mine as well, until I tried one out and was all like "It's an oversized iPhone! I want that!"

The distinction b/t the two is who had spent time on the iPhone and realized the possibilities on a larger device.

(And yes, Microsoft, you'd been flogging tablets for years. It's not the form factor.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:04 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


But BBM is coming to Windows Phone! THEY ARE SAVED!

Any more saved than they were coming to iOS or crapdroid? WP is the fastest growing mobile OS and it kicks ass- why would BBM not eventually come to it?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:48 AM on February 25 [+] [!]


Windows Phone is the fastest growing inasmuch as when you only have 50 users, it only takes 50 more for a 100% growth rate. It does seem kind of appropriate that Windows Phone and BlackBerry are still basically neck-and-neck after all these years.
posted by DoctorFedora at 8:06 PM on February 24


Ford Motor Company has just committed to purchasing Blackberry's product for use in its cars, in place of Microsoft

FMC, a US car company, has ditched Microsoft's mobile phone operating system for RIM's mobile phone operating system.

I am honestly too stunned to write the very obvious jokes about this. Because fail.
posted by eriko at 8:06 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Blackberry, a company that basically makes a fancy messaging app that comes with a free (shitty) phone,

While I agree the Steve Jobs-era iPhone had very good engineering from both a hardware and a software perspective, BlackBerry phones can hardly be called "shitty," especially when compared to the plastic crap Samsung puts out. HTC makes okay devices, but they are not excellent devices, and not nearly as good as a BlackBerry device.

While I think BlackBerry lost the war years and years ago I don't think you can say they make shitty phones. They just make phones that nobody really wants.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:09 PM on February 24 [11 favorites]


And yes, Microsoft, you'd been flogging tablets for years. It's not the form factor

Oh, no, it's clearly the form factor.

The problem is you have to build an interface that fits the form factor, which deeply conflicted with Windows Everywhere. This is why WinCE, I mean Windows Mobile, I mean Windows RT, I mean Windows Phone, continually sucked.

Apple grokked that you couldn't put a Desktop OS onto a phone or tablet. Android, having never been on desktop, was born knowing this. Windows demanded Windows Everywhere, and people who had Blackberries or Palm Pilots knew what a piece of shit that idea was.

Basically, Microsoft lost this war because they started with a losing entry and kept betting on it. Now all they have is WOES* and they're realizing what a loser bet that is.

If they fired Balmer five years ago, there might have been hope.

*Windows, Office, Exchange, Sharepoint. Too bad the last two are enterprise, which never makes any money, and the first two are rapidly becoming irrelevant.
posted by eriko at 8:15 PM on February 24 [2 favorites]


Ford choosing QNX is no closer to "Blackberry's mobile OS" than embedded Linux would be to Android or Ubuntu.

QNX is a solid platform. It's arguably Blackberry's strongest asset right now. Embedded Linux is still a tough sell in many areas, and if BB can produce a solid (and, importantly, lightweight) platform, they may have a pretty big market to exploit.

Of course, to do that, they'd need to drop their roots as a cell phone company and enterprise sales machine. I'm not exactly hopeful about that transition being successful or possible.
posted by schmod at 8:25 PM on February 24 [9 favorites]


QNX was also an acquisition for Blackberry. Dat company can't do anything right internally.
posted by Yowser at 8:37 PM on February 24


My new car runs on chrome, but it doesn't show up on the web. And I can't go to the bar because they're afraid I'll shoot video of them.
posted by valkane at 8:40 PM on February 24


While I think BlackBerry lost the war years and years ago I don't think you can say they make shitty phones. They just make phones that nobody really wants.

In case anyone is interested, I have three or four BlackBerrys in my kitchen utility drawer (one is even pink!). And they are not shitty; they are very well made, indestructible, with tactile-clicky keyboards, and back in the day when I was working at Large Law Firms, I could thumb-type a five-paragraph email 24/7 in ten minutes or less. I don't have to do that anymore (thank God), and so like the fact that they are sitting, unused, in my kitchen utility drawer. But I do hope Blackberry finds a new niche for itself; lots of people still work for them.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 8:49 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Like many former “CrackBerry” addicts, Chen converted to an Apple iPhone years ago, switching back when he joined BlackBerry. It took him a while to get used to the BlackBerry 10 operating system, but now, “I never use the iPhone any more,” he says. “The iPhone now feels like a toy. I don’t think you’ll find [I’m] the only person saying it.’”

The whole 'iPhone is a toy' talking point has basically been the mantra for Blackberry devotees for at least a couple of years now. It's repeated ad-nauseam on Blackberry forums. It basically sprung from there being almost no games available for Blackberry. So, logic follows, Blackberry is for work, iPhones for angry birds.

Of course, it's nonsense, and there's nothing to back it up, but when you're fans don't want to face their company dying, you reach for straws. So I'm not surprised that Chen would jump on the bandwagon. The simple fact is, Blackberry was late to the party. Not only did they not attract new users that suddenly wanted a smart phone, but they also lost a lot of their old users.

There's nothing wrong with Blackberry phones. But coming so late to the market they needed not to equal what was available on Android and iOS, but to surpass them in some way. And they haven't done that. If they had, they could actually show and tell you how that is true, rather than hanging their hat on some catch phrase that holds no water.
posted by justgary at 9:06 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]


QNX has been in place in cars for a while now. It is in various models of Audi, Toyota, BMW, Porsche, and Honda,

What is interesting is that BMW's iDrive used to use Microsoft, and was widely criticized for being difficult to use, and they switched to QNX back in 2008.

Ford's system is also often criticized for being difficult to use, and they are now also switching to QNX.

The problem with going with Apple or Android, or even Microsoft, is that there is the fear that it won't work equally well with every customer's devices. Whether true or not, that could be the customer perception. You don't want to lose all your Android or Apple using customers. QNX can be seen as a neutral OS.

Despite this I'm guessing that Apple's recent talks with Tesla involve the possibility of some Apple investment in exchange for them designing Tesla's dashboard OS.
posted by eye of newt at 9:13 PM on February 24


But coming so late to the market they needed not to equal what was available on Android and iOS, but to surpass them in some way.

I think if you'd asked the MIS departments at the Large Law Firms I worked for through about 2009, they all would have said that BlackBerry was vastly superior to Android, iOS, or any other mobile platform out there, because (1) they understood it 100% and (2) it was SECURE. As in, completely, law-firm-with-confidential-client-files (and/or government agency) level secure. And UNIFORM. My God, they hated when somebody brought in an iPhone and asked to get it integrated.

Anyway, those days are gone. But I don't get the feeling BlackBerry is trying to wish those days back into existence. I think they are looking for new markets. If that means reselling QNX to Ford Motor Company for installation in all its vehicles, then, well, I would love to have that problem.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 9:17 PM on February 24


The sad thing is that BB10 is a pretty nice platform, and the new phones are pretty nice as well. But the company is so un-cool that it doesn't matter - people who have never even touched one of the new Blackberry devices will still make fun of them because "herp derp blackberry rofl!" and that's all it takes in this market to sink a company like a stone.

I've never owned a BB device, and I don't own an iPhone either. But I've played with both, and I think that iPhones are toys, too. They don't seem to be built for a world where people drop things, or need to interact with their phones while looking away from the screen.
posted by 1adam12 at 9:37 PM on February 24 [1 favorite]


The Ford deal is nice, but low-margin. It allows Blackberry to stay relevant and in the news but car makers don't like to spend a lot on software for a $30k car with thousands of components. RIM paid only $200 million for QNX, after all, so they must have been banking only $10 million or so profit annually.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:39 PM on February 24


QNX is perhaps the best embedded OS out there. Used in all sorts of fantastic hardware, especially where a hard realtime OS is required — medical devices, robot control systems, avionics, etc, where a guaranteed switch in X milliseconds (nanoseconds these days?) is a requirement. Tiny footprint. Solid device driver structure. Awesome graphics library, well-suited to device controller UIs. And its been around for eons. Built right, right from the start.

Don't be dissing QNX. It's the real thing.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:03 PM on February 24 [8 favorites]


While I agree the Steve Jobs-era iPhone had very good engineering from both a hardware and a software perspective, BlackBerry phones can hardly be called "shitty," especially when compared to the plastic crap Samsung puts out. HTC makes okay devices, but they are not excellent devices, and not nearly as good as a BlackBerry device.

While I think BlackBerry lost the war years and years ago I don't think you can say they make shitty phones. They just make phones that nobody really wants.


If Blackberry goes under, I can only hope that somebody salvages that keyboard technology and puts it into production somewhere. Is a HTC-made Android phone with a Blackberry Torch-style slide-out tactile keyboard too much to ask for?
posted by hellopanda at 10:47 PM on February 24


Blackberry is a lot like ibms consumer/business computer "think" brand they sold to lenovo. Brilliant, high quality hardware that looks almost intentionally outdated and retro.

The problem is that thinkpads are just a nice way to run windows, whereas with blackberry phones you're tied to the piece of shit blackberry OS.

Does anyone on here think that the blackberry OS was EVER actually good? Because it wasn't, it was like classic mac os in its later years or windows in the 95-98 days. Ok, but full of glaring design flaws, bugs, and just generally stuff that screamed "this was designed by a committee" or inversely, but just as bad "One dictator made this stupid feature their pet project and defended it with a crew served machine gun"

Blackberry hardware was always solid. Hell, i have a REALLY old blackberry of this variety i found in a free bin that has a superior display to any phone i've ever seen(it looks like color E ink! no glare, insane viewing angles) and feels like it's hewn from a solid block of the stuff they make pelican cases out of. But the software was perpetually somewhere between "meh" and "better than the other garbage out there i guess".

It isn't that the iphone was better than already acceptable stuff that existed, it's that the stuff that existed was fucking crap that someone had to sit down and teach you how to use unless you were a huge nerd. Unintuitive, kludgy garbage.

Not to even mention BB10. Have all the delusional people in here even read a review on it? read through this tumblr and try and come back here with a straight face and pretend that it's "great". Have you even used it at all?

The thing is, other than the IP they hold, there is absolutely a market for high quality hardware. It's just that no one wants to buy their software. Imagine if you could only buy a thinkpad(or dell precision, etc) that not only shipped with a proprietary distro of linux, but actively blocked you from installing anything else?

People would buy that hardware if they'd just swallow their pride and sell high quality android phones. Hell, there's a decent sized niche market for phones with hardware keyboards that's getting completely ignored right now because moving parts cost money and no one wants to make phones with any buttons at all anymore if they can get away with it. If they backed it with bundled blackberry messenger(and other bb) software and support they could maybe reclaim what little market they still have that they're losing to everything else and at least keep that shit in house.

Oh well though.
posted by emptythought at 12:09 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


I used QNX while doing my software engineering degree to smash model trains into each other. Cars would have been much more fun!
posted by srboisvert at 5:34 AM on February 25


I was having lunch with friends, from my former life, when John Chen was announced as Blackberry's saviour. One of them said, "Time to buy Blackberry stock! The man is a turn around artist!" Granted, Sybase did not go under but it is definitely not what it once was before System 10. Will Blackberry regain what it once was? Probably not, but it will putter along, if Chen's history is an indicator.
posted by jadepearl at 5:41 AM on February 25


I own a Z10 and actually think it's a fantastic phone. I also own a Nexus 7 and am familiar with Android, and have used on several occasions family member's iPads and iPhones. Speaking as someone who has actually used BB10 regularly, it is way better than iOS, and I would say edges out Android too. That said, I am someone who very rarely uses it for more than its core functions (e-mail, phone, BBM, browsing, occasionally maps). It doesn't have the app ecosystem that other platforms have, but for pretty much all these core functions except maps, it is a much smoother and refined experience.
posted by jamincan at 5:59 AM on February 25


emptythought: "It's just that no one wants to buy their software"

Seriously? BlackBerry Enterprise Server is the only thing keeping the company alive in the enterprise market. It has basically zero competitors.

Yeah, the OS is pretty awful, but BES is the only thing that lets corporate overlords have iron-clad control over their minons' mobile devices.
posted by schmod at 6:33 AM on February 25


emptythought: "Hell, there's a decent sized niche market for phones with hardware keyboards that's getting completely ignored right now because moving parts cost money and no one wants to make phones with any buttons at all anymore if they can get away with it."

Yes yes yes. I would pay real money for a high end Android phone with physical keyboard.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:51 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


FWIW, Linux has been making headway into the market, so this Ford announcement is actually pretty good news for Blackberry.
posted by Poldo at 7:13 AM on February 25


Chen has got the basic idea right. The money is in the services and apps, not in the hardware. The hardware is only a platform for on-line sales of some sort. Look at how Google has beaten up Samsung for forking Android away from Google's on-line business.

What RIM used to sell was a secure e-mail service. The Blackberry was just the consumer end of the service, but what RIM provided was secure servers and end-to-end encryption. Well at least in the beginning. When the UAE threatened to block RIMs service because the encryption was too good, RIM caved "allowing them access to the information exchanged by their BlackBerry users."

This, I think, is what killed RIM and Blackberry and Chen's idea to focus again on services is interesting. I wonder if she will challenge the NSAs of the world and offer a truly secure e-mail service? That could be worth something.
posted by three blind mice at 7:14 AM on February 25


There's a few things that BB have done wrong as I see it:
1) They should have released the Q10 and Z10 together, or at least the Q10 first so that folk who were used to the keyboard form-factor wouldn't have been completely put off
2) BB10 wasn't ready for the prime-time at launch. Frankly, most of them haven't been, but now that there are established players in the market, any newcomers need to stand out. BB10.2.1, the latest release on my Z10 is so much better than the previous iterations, and leaps and bounds ahead of my old iPhone or my wife's HTC One
3) The BB app store is a laughing stock - particularly because they threw money at the developers just so that they could claim quantity... shame that Joe Public has actually started to care a bit more about quality
4) I think that the market has been confused by having BB10 devices being released alongside old BB7 devices. The move to the new platform has been half-hearted at best.
5) Having car manufacturers using QNX is all well and good, but BB should capitalise on it - and should work to have some kind of linkage between the in-car systems and a BB phone
6) I don't know about the rest of the world, but I'm still bitter about my Playbook - not the best design, but so much promise, and would be fantastic if it was running BB10 like they promised :(
posted by Chunder at 2:03 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


Has "[Person] has a plan to save [Company]" ever been anything but a death knell?
posted by lumpenprole at 3:34 PM on February 25


Has "[Person] has a plan to save [Company]" ever been anything but a death knell?

Jobs' return to Apple post-Scully?
posted by modernnomad at 4:34 PM on February 25


I went from a BB Torch to a Samsung Galaxy. For three months. I gave it a real try, but touchscreen keyboards and me don't play well. I took to using "text speech" because the keyboard made me so cross.

Buying a Q10 was like like heaven. Physical keyboard, touch screen smaller than a cat's head!

I admit I don't play games, don't need a lot of apps, and mostly surf and text/email.

And for that? Blackberry is the only ecosystem for me. Maybe I'll look at 'Droid if a handset comes out with a physical keyboard. That is the killer for me.

I also like BB 10 and don't see how different it is from the Droid I had. Perhaps I'm a Luddite?
posted by right_then at 9:45 PM on February 25


I use a Samsung Captivate GLide with slideout keyboard. It works okay, doesn't look like they'll be updating the OS past Ice Cream Sandwich.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:12 AM on February 26


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