BlackBerry not dead, insists official

With news gaining ground about BlackBerry’s imminent privatization – which a number of casual analysts seem to have taken as news about its potential death – the company is at pains to explain to its customers and stakeholders that it is still alive and kicking.

“BlackBerry still a leading smartphone player in UAE,” is a title of the media note that Emirates 24|7 received this morning, and the title does say it all.

The media note, attributed to Nick Horton, BlackBerry’s Managing Director for Middle East and North Africa, documents a number of facts about the region, like it being the leading region in the world for smartphone penetration, and the UAE in particular being one of the top global markets for smartphone subscriptions.

In this competitive market, BlackBerry says, it has achieved the enviable No. 3 position, and that’s no mean feat. “According to data provided by research firm GfK, BlackBerry was the #3 best-selling brand in the UAE in August this year,” the note emphasizes.

While we’re in no way disputing that stat, the very fact that BlackBerry has had to come out with a note to suggest that it is still doing well shows the extent of damage that it believes negative customer and analyst perception might be doing to its brand and, therefore, the counter-plan.

Blackberry is indeed struggling as a smartphones manufacturer but not because it doesn’t have any good devices. In fact, the launch of the BlackBerry Z10 on the new platform BB10 at the beginning of this year was supposed to turn a new golden leaf in the ailing company’s history.

However, what the new launch seemed to have done is to remind everyone that this was a company that brought out a killer email- and BBM-enabled smartphone about 10 years ago – and had nothing much to show between then and the launch of the new killer phone on a new killer platform this year.

That perception, more than anything, is hurting the company badly, and for good reason. Stakeholders and customers seem to have become jittery that if BlackBerry takes another 10 years to revamp its current crop, they will be left with a defunct device and shares.

Now, however, the company has shown good resolve and has launched a slew of devices following the earlier Z10 launch – including the Q10, the Q5 and the Z30. Unfortunately for Blackberry, not many seem to be interested, and the company was forced to announce the spinning off of its killer feature (BBM) onto Android and iOS platforms. Even that hasn’t gone off successfully with the planned unveiling running into technical glitches thanks to some unintended leaks of the beta version.

A few weeks ago, BlackBerry reached a preliminary agreement with a group led by Fairfax Financial Holdings, its biggest shareholder, to take the smartphones-maker private for about $4.7 billion. While that valuation seems more than what its current share price suggests, to look at it in perspective, that is less than the amount that rival Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) made during the first weekend sales of the 9 million new iPhone 5c and iPhone 5s devices.

So Apple Inc. made in just three days what the whole of BlackBerry, with its almost 30 years of existence, is perceived to be worth by its biggest shareholder today.

That’s the sad truth, and BlackBerry is now rumoured to be seeking other potential suitors that may be interested in parts or the whole of it, and may be willing to pay more than the Fairfax offer. Those potentially interested include Samsung, LG, Intel, Cisco, Google and SAP, and up for grabs are BlackBerry’s secure server network (the one that handles our BBMs securely) as well as its wealth of patents and, not to forget, a sizeable real estate portfolio.

Not helping matters are, of course, BlackBerry’s mounting losses. Just when the company might have been huddled up with potential investors in off-the-record closed-door meetings, it was also forced to publically report a quarterly loss of almost $1 billion after taking a writedown on unsold Z10 smartphones.

At least in that one respect the company going private will do it good – it won’t have to report its losses, and can come out with positive statements as and when it wishes to, choosing the timing and the nature of the announcement.

So what’s next for BlackBerry? Most probably a ‘private’ period in which it could recoup its resources and renergise for a more promising future. Or be given a very private burial if it fails to do so.

Below is the full BlackBerry statement we received this morning:

 “Attributed to Nick Horton, Managing Director for Middle East and North Africa, BlackBerry

BlackBerry still a leading smartphone player in UAE

With smartphone penetration in the Middle East amongst the highest in the world, it is expected that growth will be faster than the EMEA average over the next five years. The UAE is ranked amongst the top markets for smartphone subscribers and we see this trend continuing as populations grow and people transition from feature phones to smart devices.

The Middle East also continues to be one of the strongest regions for BlackBerry globally, and we remain highly competitive in the smartphone market in this region. According to data provided by research firm GfK, BlackBerry was the #3 best-selling brand in the UAE in August this year. Additionally, 98 percent of all BlackBerry users in the UAE use BlackBerry® Messenger (BBM) to stay in contact with their networks, families, friends and colleagues, one of the highest customer use rates in the world. As such, this is an extremely important country to us and we continue to ensure we are committed to investing in it – for example, the UAE was one of the key launch markets for our BlackBerry 10 smartphone range, including the BlackBerry Z10, Q10, Q5 and the new BlackBerry Z30.

We are seeing an increasing demanding from our customers to stay connected and be productive while on the move and our company’s heritage is built on consumer users and business leaders that value productivity and connectivity as their top priorities during the day – whether this be their corporate emails or even their social media networks. We continue to work with our partners in the UAE to deliver BlackBerry 10 to our target markets in a variety of ways – through the channel, in-store and online. Now more than ever, we want to ensure our users gain access to the technologies, features and applications that will allow them to work more efficiently.

We work with our carrier partners to ensure that BlackBerry subscription plans for both our enterprise and consumer customers are highly competitive and support the high roaming trend of our Saudi customers. We have established strong distribution and retail networks that allow us to provide BlackBerry to our customers in everything from the largest electronic retailers to the smallest souk shops. We also work with government organisations, local businesses and media organisations to create innovative mobile computing solutions that benefit the community as a whole, such as utility bill payment app for the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and an Abu Dhabi police app to help the public reach police services on the go.

Supporting all of this is a large and varied app ecosystem, which we are extremely dedicated to. BlackBerry has apps – lots of apps. When we launched BlackBerry 10 earlier this year, we launched with more than 70,000 apps – the highest number for any first generation platform. Now, there are more than 130,000 applications for BlackBerry 10 customers in the BlackBerry® World mobile app storefront.  We support more than 150 Middle East app developer partners who have been instrumental in our success across the region. In fact, users in the Middle East region download more BlackBerry 10 apps than any of our other markets. KSA leads this trend with UAE in the third place.

BlackBerry has a strong international brand and we believe that there is still plenty of room for growth in this industry. We remain steadfast in our commitment to our customers and partners in the UAE. In a world where choice is king, we have the secure technology and services that users need – no matter what device or platform they have chosen – to keep people moving at home, at work and on the go. Our business is more than just devices – it is software, hardware and services.

At BlackBerry we believe in a future where mobile computing is the driving force behind a more intelligent and responsive world. A world where the only computing power you need is in the palm of your hand. The proliferation of mobile devices and the increased intelligence built into connected products creates unprecedented opportunity to bring the future of mobile computing to life – today. While there is much work to do, here in the UAE we are striving every day to make this vision a reality. We are a part of the most competitive and fastest-moving industry on the planet – the next phase will be very exciting for all of us.”


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