Beleaguered BlackBerry: Sometimes the best a company can hope for is death

The Financial Times has carried an unusual number of obituaries and stories of terminal illness this summer,” John Kay writes for Financial Times. “There was the bankruptcy of Detroit and the slide into administration of once-ubiquitous companies, such as Jessops, the high-street camera retailer. Then there was last week’s announcement of the continuing troubles of BlackBerry, which made the defining business product of the first decade of the 21st century.”

“Humans have always found it hard to cope with the idea that every individual has a lifespan even as life itself goes on. The idea of a natural life cycle for a business, or industrial centre, is even more difficult to accepte,” Kay writes. “The marketing guru Theodore Levitt elaborated this theme in an article half a century ago. Levitt denounced marketing myopia. There was always, he suggested, a future for a company; the key was to look for a creative answer to the question: “What business are we in?” Manufacturers of buggy whips might still be around as carmakers if they had only understood that they were not simply encouraging faster horses; they were transport companies.”

Kay writes, “As Jessops shows, a business in decline can fall into a downward spiral: what would attract young professionals to Detroit, or able technologists to BlackBerry? The problem is not solved by fostering illusions about reinvention. Merger is often a civilised alternative to bankruptcy, and we live on mainly through our progeny.”

Much more in the full article here.

Related articles:
iPhone roadkill: Beleaguered BlackBerry is dead company walking – August 16, 2013
Why potential buyers won’t line up for beleaguered BlackBerry – August 12, 2013
Beleaguered BlackBerry explores sale of company– August 12, 2013
Beleaguered BlackBerry shares drop 7% as Z10′s U.S. launch gets subdued reception – March 22, 2013
Gartner: Beleaguered BlackBerry in an ‘extremely difficult’ spot – March 19, 2013
Why the Z10 won’t save beleaguered Blackberry – March 11, 2013


    1. yeah they did… they just were not fast enough to adjust to ‘touch’ based…

      As for Detroit… GM was WAY AHEAD of other manufacturers regarding electric cars… then they dropped it in favor of SUVs instead of continiuing to develop them…

      MSFT is facing the same problem today… except for realizing the potential of the kinect… their business model is based on old (yet still with huge revenues) products.

      Good thing for Apple that Jony Ive and the Man is still with Apple… Would be great to bring back “Father of iPod” back to this board as well.

  1. One of main reasons for BlackBerry’s decline and imminent demise is that they made the same phones over and over again every year with minor changes and they stuck to a tiny 2.5″ screen despite the newer smartphones coming in with big (at that time) 3.5″ screens. Refusal to change and to react to changing market trends caused them to be left behind in the race for the future.

    Sound familiar to you? It should – it’s the exact same strategy followed by Apple and Tim Cook. I hope Apple doesn’t go down the sinkhole for refusing to recognise market trends, trends that Android appears to be a trailblazer for now.

    1. Blackberry did try to change once the iPhone came out, it just failed at creating a compelling device. It actually tried some unique features, like the tactile feedback of its first 3.5″ smartphone. But it just didn’t work very well.

    2. It would be interesting to see what happens if BB goes bankrupt. Most interesting would be if they simply end up shutting down the service.

      While the company is in a fast downward spiral, we shouldn’t forget that there are still very many quite powerful people around the world (and in the US) for whom the device is a mission-critical component of their IT arsenal. Scrambling to migrate to an alternative platform (iOS?) would put massive strain on many players out there, including Apple.

      There is currently a fairly hard deadline for all those who are using XP on desktop. My workplace is now facing the prospect of migrating some 5,000 desktops from XP to Windows 7, with only about eight months left to do it (translates to 30 per working day, for a fairly small team of 10 people). I can see how there is simply no way this will be completed by April. BlackBerry bankruptcy just might present same type of a challenge: rapid migration to a new platform, complete with heavy hardware investment, as well as infrastructure development.

      This will be fun to watch…

        1. It is a testament to the problems that Microsoft has had with convincing large enterprise customers that they need to upgrade their OS. Coupled with the Vista debacle, it should be no surprise that many organisations (like mine) were very cautious to upgrade to Win 7. Windows XP provided all the necessary functionality, manageability and relatively reasonable security that corporations needed, and it was very difficult to justify hardware, as well as OS license expenditures necessary just so that the OS can be migrated to Win 7. As long as MS continued officially supporting XP, corporations could stay there. And software developers had no incentive to upgrade their applications to Win 7 and drop support for XP, when there was such large (and often critical) installed base still on XP. Now that MS is officially no longer going to support XP, corporations have no choice but upgrade. Not that those XP workstations will suddenly stop working (they won’t), but because in the enterprise environment, running an unsupported OS is simply not an option, no matter what.

          Of course, there will be a massive number of smaller businesses, as well as individuals, who will happily stay on XP for years to come, seeing no need to spend significant cash on new hardware, only to saddle it with the new, massively bloated OS.

        2. You haven’t looked at the screen the Four Season’s receptionists and concierge use lately or you would be even more stunned.

          Windows 2000 still survives there. Maybe they are trying security through obscurity?

    3. You will need to explain precisely what significant trends that Android is championing that points to a I liar demise of Apple. I have been cynical of late but wouldn’t dream of making such a statement. Ever increasing screens simply takes you to the iPad not some unbridgeable advance such as those that condemned BB. I consider tapping phones a dead end, ever bigger screens a monetary marketing ploy, recognition of hand movements a mostly pointless gimmick that ignores the full potential of touch. What seriously inspiring or compelling innovation are we seeing over momentary interesting gimmickry for the most part. Apple needs to find inspiring but logical avenues to develop rather than jumping on every marketing bandwagon that has little longevity or practical use and just clouds the user interface. That’s the PC route and I note even MS is declining that route for its own mobile trajectory.

    4. Conventional wisdom about Apple (when mentioning Tim Cook): Apple isn’t changing enough stuff.

      Conventional wisdom about Apple (when mentioning iOS 7): Apple is changing too much stuff.

  2. One important question that no one has asked, is “What happens to Blackberry’s email service if the company goes belly up?”

    Blackberry has refused to loosen control of its email service away from its proprietary and centralized BB servers. Do those just shut down? If someone buys them out of bankruptcy, is it profitable to continue to operate as BB bleeds users? Is the hardware even worth it?

    1. They exit the hardware market but continue their enterprise services and port them to other platforms.

      Microsoft, another dinosaur, needs to do the same with Office, otherwise they’ll lose that market. (As a side note, would be funny if Microsoft decided to get even with Google for not allowing YouTube on Windows phones and tablets by only releasing Office for iOS..)

    2. They still have an opportunity but I doubt they have what it takes to seize it.

      The thing that made them valuable was never their clunky hardware and tiny keyboards – it was their cloud service, that synced email and other information in way was useful for certain businesses. As far as I can tell, no one has really replaced their proprietary service all that well.

      BlackBerry hardware is being replaced by iPhones and other touchscreen phones with third party app architecture. BlackBerry’s only choice (besides dying) is to transition to this new paradigm. They could do it by giving up on their clunky hardware and focusing on a BlackBerry app that syncs with BlackBerry servers. As the smart phone market gets more fragmented between iPhone and Android and others, the BlackBerry app could be very attractive for businesses who want a consistent business information architecture between on different mobile platforms.

      I sometimes still see people carrying 2 phones – one personal phone (often an iPhone) and one business phone (often a BlackBerry). A BlackBerry app could accomplish the exact same thing – be a complete personal communication tool and a complete business communication device – but on single device.

      1. The one thing I hate about BB email is when you turn on your BB all new emails arrive with the same time stamp. This is an annoyance when traveling (airplane) and you have dozens of emails with the same time. Why is it so hard to have the email show the time it arrived at the server?

        1. I’m not totally sure, but that may not be a Blackberry specific problem. It sounds like an imap vs. pop3 issue, that you can fix just by switching from pop3 to imap.

          They are the two most common formats for email – the main difference is pop3 stores emails metadata on each individual client (such as your phone or computer), and imap stores the metadata on a server. I find imap is the better option 99% of the time – emails just behave the way one would expect, with all email information synchronized over a central server.

  3. BlackBerry (RIM) was the one company that could have challenged Apple, back when iPhone was introduced in 2007. It had the largest and most loyal customer base, when iPhone started at ZERO.

    What happened in smartphones mirrors personal computer, but with a compressed timeline. Early on, there were many platforms, including companies that designed and controlled BOTH hardware and software. For smartphones (in 2007), it was RIM, Palm, and Nokia. And there was Windows Mobile. RIM was the biggest player that controlled software and hardware design.

    In personal computers today, it’s basically Apple and Windows. In smartphones, it’s basically Apple and Android. RIM is hardly mentioned anymore as another choice. It’s Apple, with integrated control of hardware and software design, versus the fragmented “collective” of separate software and hardware companies. That’s a game Apple knows how to play and win.

    Somehow, BlackBerry let it all slip away… It could have been Apple versus BlackBerry versus the “other” platform

    FYI – Microsoft also blew it by throwing away their well-established Windows Mobile platform in a panic and starting over from ZERO with Windows Phone. The primary “collective” platform today could have been from Microsoft, not Google. Windows Phone is even less significant than BlackBerry.

    1. Good points, but I think MS made the right choice with the Windows Phone (for once). There’s no way Windows Mobile CE could be turned into something competitive with iOS or Android – it was a terrible, dated, and limiting mess of legacy code. Making a mobile OS from scratch was MS’s only of hope of remaining in the smart phone market.

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