5 changes BlackBerry must make to have a ghost of a chance

The company that once defined the smartphone needs to look elsewhere for its future

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Perhaps the Q10 would have sold had it not required a new version of BlackBerry Enterprise Server. BlackBerry's decision to make organizations run both BES5 and BES10 servers, even with the common front end introduced in BES10.2, was insanely stupid, as it made adopting BlackBerry 10 devices a real hassle. No wonder BlackBerry sold more discontinued BES5-compatible BlackBerry devices last year than BlackBerry 10 devices. (BES12, due by 2015, will remedy this suicidal division, but that's awfully late.)

Let's assume there is a market for BlackBerry physical keyboards. The company should license its keyboards to any mobile manufacturer, both for use as an embedded keyboard and as an add-on keyboard, similar to the Typo Keyboard peripheral for the iPhone 5 and 5s that BlackBerry is suing Type Products over.

3. Make BBM a world-class service

I have BBM on my devices but never use it. Apple's iMessage is much easier to use, as it lets me message from any of my devices, keeping the conversation current across all of them -- well, if the other people in the conversations also use iMessage rather than SMS. iMessage's lack of availability on non-Apple platforms is its Achilles' heel, forcing you and everyone you message to live in an exclusive Apple world. That's Apple's goal, of course, but it's unrealistic.

BBM today works on only one device at a time, so you have to log in and out as you move across devices. That's just dumb, and the kind of market blindness BlackBerry keeps exhibiting. BBM could be the universal messaging app if it supported simultaneous multiple-device usage. After all, every market research firm has been publishing reports for a few years now noting that people move among multiple devices fluidly and often use several at a time, like desktop computers move among open windows and browser tabs.

However, messaging makes BlackBerry no money, which is why it is looking into services like mobile payments. A money-exchange service makes more sense, if it gets a small cut of the transaction processing fee. But there is competition from PayPal and the increasing number of banks that support payments to people who use other banks via email. (Mobile payments at a cash register are less convenient than using a debit or credit card, which is why it hasn't taken off despite Google's and others' efforts. I don't believe it is likely to any time soon.)

The big challenge for BlackBerry when it comes to BBM is how to make money from it. People have been trained to expect free services on the Web and in mobile, and VCs have invested billions in companies that offer free services in hopes of making money later. Few actually will, but that crash has yet to occur, so established companies are stuck: They need to offer such services for free to support an overall platform from which they make money in other ways (as Apple does with hardware sales and Google with personal data mining).

BlackBerry doesn't have such a platform, so it needs to focus on BBM-based services for which someone will pay real money. I wish I knew what they were; BlackBerry needs to find them and do them really well out if the gate, but its recent history in such failed efforts as its music service is not encouraging.

BBM is BlackBerry's one remaining service for which a wide swath users have passion. If BBM became a universal platform beyond messaging that stoked that passion, it could become the public face of BlackBerry and stand as one of its economic pillars.

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