BlackBerry's future -- or what's left of it -- is in messenger services, not devices

The former king of business smartphones needs to ditch devices entirely and focus on being the enterprise-grade messaging service provider it's always been

The bad news about the company formerly known as Research in Motion is now known far and wide: BlackBerry is letting go some 40 percent of its workers and exiting the consumer smartphone business.

What good news there is for BlackBerry has come from an unlikely direction -- and even that comes tainted with misfortune: The release of its hotly demanded Messenger app for Android and iOS devices was botched as well. Here's hoping the company gets that fixed soon, since apps -- not phones -- may turn out to be one of the few avenues left for BlackBerry, especially now that it's planning to go private.

BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM for short, was slated to be made available on the Google Play Store on Saturday, Sept. 21, with the iOS version to follow the next day. But an unofficial Android version leaked out to some 1.1 million users and caused BlackBerry no small amount of headaches. The company had to deactivate both versions of the app and set up a staggered rollout program for the newly revised BBM.

The success of the app on other platforms hints at a possible way forward for the beleaguered company, one rooted in what BlackBerry has traditionally offered best: an enterprise-level messaging system. The company's best path would be to aggressively revise its services and make BBM a system that can contend with the likes of Silent Circle.

That might be a difficult sell, given how the company knuckled under to government pressure and allegedly had its enterprise products compromised by the NSA. It would require an inside-out rethinking of the company's approach to its own business.

BlackBerry also plans to narrow its device offerings down to a mere four, but it might be best served by leaving the device market entirely. The Washington Post has pointed out that the BYOD trend allows employees to pick consumer devices with a great deal more pizzazz and panache than the rapidly aging BlackBerry lineup. The future of the corporate smartphone market will be a subset of the consumer smartphone market, with business-grade features -- full-device encryption, protected containers, and so on -- added to the phones everyone already knows and uses.

It's deeply unlikely BlackBerry will ever regain anything like its former stature, especially now that it has cut a deal to go private and have its stock bought back for $9 a share -- down from 2009 highs of almost $100. But in these brutally competitive times, a company that's fallen as far as BlackBerry can count itself lucky to even find a niche, let alone thrive in one.

For BlackBerry to build on its existing enterprise-grade messaging apps -- and perhaps develop them into even more ambitious offerings that no one else is offering yet -- would be a good start. No degree of reinvention and skin-shedding should be considered off the table for a company this close to completely bowing out.

This story, "BlackBerry's future -- or what's left of it -- is in messenger services, not devices," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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