The last few days have not been good to BlackBerry. First, it announced late on Friday that it had eaten a $1 billion loss and was firing 4,500 employees, and then, late yesterday, it announced it was going private, on an offer of… less than $5 billion. Ouch. How did a former tech giant fall so far, and so fast?
The answer is, more or less, one word: Apple. The design freaks at Cupertino didn’t kill BlackBerry directly, of course, but just like Motorola Mobility becoming a Google fiefdom or Nokia becoming part of Microsoft, their devices spelled the end of BlackBerry’s era. And just like a game of musical chairs, BlackBerry is the one without a major tech backer.
Anywhere you look, the picture is pretty grim. BlackBerry has stated that it’s getting out of the consumer market and focusing solely on corporate clients… but increasingly IT departments are using Bring Your Own Device policies both to save money and, well, if the phone breaks it’s not their problem. BlackBerry’s entire selling point is that you get your email securely on your phone… but that’s not a unique claim anymore, and really it hasn’t been for years.
Furthermore, Apple, Microsoft, and Google have all worked pretty hard to gain the trust of corporate IT accounts, and it doesn’t help that BlackBerry seems trapped in a death spiral. Nobody wants to buy phones from a company that might not exist in six months.
Taking BlackBerry private might be a good idea in the long term; separated from the demands of quarterly reports, the company might be able to come up with something innovative. Then again, this is a company run by a guy who insisted that tablets were, like, just a fad, man. Innovation is not the watchword at BlackBerry.
In short, BlackBerry is being left behind and there’s little they can do to catch up; consumers don’t want their products, even if they are well engineered, and companies don’t want to buy their employees a second phone to answer email. There might be a way out of this; companies have survived worse spots. But it’s hard to see a spot for BlackBerry that’s any worse.
If there’s a lesson here, it’s that resting on your laurels in the tech sector is death. BlackBerry didn’t engage in any enormous acts of hubris; it just decided it was good enough. Turns out, in the end, it wasn’t.
(Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes on Flickr)