Dead again: BlackBerry sinks hopes for a resurrection

New CEO John Chen is saying all the wrong things his predecessors did and killing all glimmers of hope

I've really tried to give BlackBerry the benefit of the doubt for the last year, when it finally released a modern smartphone operating system, the BlackBerry 10 OS, after years of clinging stubbornly to a platform that should have had a decent burial years before. I wasn't so charitable in 2011, when I wrote that the fat lady had sung for BlackBerry, but that was in the depths of its denial, with its chief executives claiming utter nonsense such as apps were a fad, businesses would never adopt iPhones due to security fears, and users wanted only keyboard-equipped phones.

In 2012, BlackBerry had a come-to-Jesus moment -- no doubt a near-death reaction -- and got rid of the two co-founders who had refused to adapt to the modern era. The new CEO, Thorsten Heins, was the old CFO, and although he pretended everything was going according to plan, he admitted real change was needed -- then made it happen, after many delays and a two-year gap in new models. BlackBerry 10, and the two first devices using it (the Z10 and Q10) would have been great smartphones in 2009, but in 2013 they were just decent. Still, decent was a lot better than obsolete, and I had hope that more positive steps were to come.

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But hardly anyone bought the Z10 or Q10 -- BlackBerry fans instead stocked up on the old models still collecting dust in warehouses -- and after months of telling the world that sales were good, Heins had to report they were in fact horrible. The company then stirred doubts about its comitment to BlackBerry 10 by producing a new device using the obsolete BlackBerry OS 7. Heins then put BlackBerry up for sale, but no one bit. Heins was fired this fall and replaced with a former Sybase exec, John Chen, who enjoys solid industry respect.

Chen immediately started in on the expected speech on how wonderful everything would be as BlackBerry focused on its core enterprise market, especially for its BES security and menagement capabilities. He offloaded some of the devices business to Foxconn, to save money and reduce financial exposure (more accurately, he didn't stop this effort, which his predecessor initiated). OK, I thought, BlackBerry will retrench to become a niche hardware provider for governments' high-security employees and their suppliers, while trying to keep the half of the mobile management market it now has by expanding into Android and iOS management -- not glorious, but plausible. I wasn't ready to second Gartner's advice that IT move fully away from BlackBerry.

But I started doubting Chen in December, as his "we're not dead" spiel (and ads) disconnected further and further from reality. It sounded just like the last two sets of BlackBerry leaders: fake optimism disconnected from the real world, with same failed nostrums yet again recycled. When a company keeps proclaiming it's not dead and keeps trying what failed, you know the end is near.

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