BlackBerry CEO John Chen has raised the chances of his company's survival from the 50-50 he gave it a few months ago to 80-20 now. The comments, made at a technology conference in California, also pointed to some refinements in his company's strategy.
When he assumed the top position in November, Chen said the odds the company would make it were, essentially, a coin flip. But on Wednesday at Re/code's Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, he was somewhat more optimistic.
According to The Financial Post, he told the conference that the company has "a lot of problems, but it's not dead." He added that he was "quite positive that we will be able to save the patient."
The Z3 'Jakarta'
He also indicated that, under previous CEO Thorsten Heins, the company spent too much energy and resources on consumer smartphones, when it should have stayed with the enterprise. Chen said the company was going back to its roots, releasing new BlackBerry phones this fall that will feature full physical keyboards, large screens and messaging.
Messaging is key, as one of BlackBerry's few, unqualified successes in terms of popularity is its cross-platform BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service. Additionally, the company's recently released Z3 "Jakarta" handset, targeted for Indonesia, has reportedly been a success in that country.
That device, unveiled earlier this month, could provide an indication of the company's direction in handsets. It is the first phone BlackBerry has built in conjunction with Asian manufacturer Foxconn and, at a price tag of $200, it competes at the entry level with low-cost Android devices in an emerging market, the kind of market where the major growth in smartphone sales is taking place.
According to news reports, there were lines to buy the phone on its first day of sale on May 16, and on the next day. It reportedly sold out in many outlets in that country on the first day.
Ramon Llamas, an analyst with industry research firm IDC, described the current BlackBerry as "still in the transformative stage," with Chen "taking the right steps."
But, he said, the company's future lies in its being "more of a niche player, not a mass-market player," especially for such regulated markets as legal, financial and similar business sectors where security and device/file control are paramount.
Llamas said that Chen's 80 percent assessment is a "comment that gets my attention," because it is the first time the new CEO has indicated he is "seeing some actual likelihood of continuation."
Some BlackBerry-watchers have speculated whether the company, which has broadened its BBM and mobile management suite to include iOS and Android, might be moving toward providing even more Android compatibility or even releasing an Android-based phone.
The question about moving closer to Android, Llamas said, is "what could BlackBerry bring to the table" that currently isn't being offered? There could be additional safety or security factors, he agreed, but added that the company would likely need "some additional differentiator."