It's time for BlackBerry to kill the BlackBerry

CEO John Chen keeps saying he may kill the now-obsolete smartphone pioneer; it's time to actually do it

It's time for BlackBerry to kill the BlackBerry
Credit: flickr/miggslives

Once again, BlackBerry CEO John Chen, the man brought into save the long-foundering mobile company, has said he's willing to kill BlackBerry's smartphone business. He's been saying that publicly for nearly a year, effectively letting customers know to go elsewhere.

Maybe the idea was to get customers to show their commitment to BlackBerry devices; if so that strategy has backfired -- BlackBerry device sales continue to decline to trivial numbers (now fewer than 3.5 million a year, or what Apple sells in five days), despite a series of new models of every conceivable design in the last two years.

The newest model -- whose details have been steadily leaked since February in BlackBerry's classic strategy of announcing products way before they are ready in an apparent attempt to keep customers enticed -- won't help BlackBerry sales, either.

Chen's painfully awkward demo of that new device, called the BlackBerry Priv, also won't help. If he believed in the Priv, he would have learned to be comfortable using it before doing a public demo of it. He did not.

The Priv is an Android smartphone to be released sometime this fall that has unspecified extra security features in addition to a traditional BlackBerry physical keyboard that slides out. But Chen himself has described those capabilities as equivalent to what Samsung offers in its Knox-enabled Android devices. In other words, it's much less secure than a traditional BlackBerry and a little less secure than an iPhone. If an enterprise thinks an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S is not secure enough, it won't think a Priv is either.

The buzz around the Priv, to the extent there is any, is over its physical slider keyboard, not its security. There's a vocal group of users who want such a keyboard, but Android makers abandoned the format several years ago (due to lack of actual sales). I doubt that vocal group will actually buy the Priv, just as they haven't bought previous keyboard-equipped Android devices.

Even if they do, so what? If the market for such devices were reasonably large, Samsung, HTC, Motorola, or LG would already be there.

There's the larger issue: If a CEO doesn't believe in his company's products, why should anyone else? Chen has made it clear multiple times he sees no future in BlackBerry devices.

As BlackBerry device sales dwindle to almost nothing, it's time for Chen to commit to his often-stated software strategy and kill the BlackBerry device. (BlackBerry keeps buying other companies to deliver on that strategy, including recently Good Technology.) I suspect he hadn't killed them sooner because they provided some cash flow as the company made the transition he clearly does believe in: becoming a defense contractor for secured communications systems and software.

Some government agencies and defense contractors truly need the strong security that the combination of the BlackBerry device and the BlackBerry network operations center together provide. There's a reason that the Secret Service still won't let President Barack Obama use his iPhone.

When BlackBerry kill its BlackBerry device business, that should mean as a consumer or regular business product. The BlackBerry should become a high-priced specialty device sold via government and defense contracts along the lines of other defense contractors' special equipment. These devices should be part of a secure messaging platform defense business, costing a few thousand dollars per device to give BlackBerry the income it needs to protect chancellors, presidents, prime ministers, cabinet ministers, and NSA workers.

The BlackBerry should otherwise disappear. It's a distraction unloved by its own CEO. 

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