After years of going it alone, BlackBerry is conceding that it might need a hand to have any chance at a comeback.
The company announced that it’s looking at “strategic alternatives” to get BlackBerry’s phones and services in the hands of more users. BlackBerry says it’s considering joint ventures or partnerships with other companies, or a sale of the company altogether. There have also been reports that BlackBerry could try to go private, but the company’s press release doesn’t specifically mention it.
Here’s Thorsten Heins, BlackBerry’s CEO, in a prepared statement:
As the Special Committee focuses on exploring alternatives, we will be continuing with our strategy of reducing cost, driving efficiency and accelerating the deployment of BES 10, as well as driving adoption of BlackBerry 10 smartphones, launching the multi-platform BBM social messaging service, and pursuing mobile computing opportunities by leveraging the secure and reliable BlackBerry Global Data Network.
There are basically two things BlackBerry is trying to do right now. First, and most obviously, the company wants more people using BlackBerry 10 devices. The current Z10 and Q10 phones haven’t made a splash, with just 2.7 million units shipped last quarter. BlackBerry 10’s software is interesting, but the company has struggled for years to keep up with other phone makers on hardware innovation. It’s possible that a more successful phone maker–Lenovo, LG or Samsung, perhaps–could lend a hand by putting BlackBerry 10 on their own phones or tablets. For those companies, buying BlackBerry or licensing the software could be a way to reduce dependence on Android.
Separately, BlackBerry is looking to expand its services to other platforms such as iOS and Android. The company already offers an enterprise service for BlackBerry, iOS and Android that lets businesses manage security and apps remotely. BlackBerry is also bringing its BlackBerry Messenger service to iPhones and Android devices in the near future. At the same time, we’re seeing companies like Samsung try to move beyond just hardware and into services. (Samsung, for that matter, offers its own enterprise management tool called Knox, and a messaging service called ChatOn.) For Blackberry, a sale or partnership could help extend the reach of its services.
What does all that mean for BlackBerry users (or what’s left of them, anyway)? The best-case scenario would be the sale or licensing of BlackBerry 10 to another phone and tablet maker, which would in turn produce better BlackBerry hardware. The worst-case scenario for users would be the sale of BlackBerry to a company that’s only interested in services like BBM and BlackBerry Enterprise Service, which arguably have more profit potential than BlackBerry 10. Such a company could end up phasing out the BlackBerry operating system while focusing on enterprise services that work across all platforms.
All of this is hypothetical, as BlackBerry is basically just putting out feelers right now. The only thing we know for sure is that BlackBerry’s future is in flux–and that’s not anything new.