John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

At BlackBerry, a New Strategy Emerges

BBM_Bob_Doug_McKenzieJohn Chen, who became interim CEO of BlackBerry last month after the company abandoned plans to sell itself to its largest shareholder, has provided few details about how he intends to restore the dilapidated smartphone pioneer. But some early signs of his strategy are emerging.

The first — Chen’s late-November C-suite purge, which saw the ouster of COO Kristian Tear, CMO Frank Boulben and CFO Brian Bidulka, and the resignation of board member Roger “Our New CEO Isn’t a Moron Like the Rest of You” Martin. News of the shake-up was released along with a comment from its orchestrator, offering the briefest of outlines of BlackBerry’s path forward: “I will continue to align my senior management team and organizational structure, and refine the Company’s strategy to ensure we deliver the best devices, mobile security and device management through BES 10, provide multi-platform messaging solutions with BBM, and expand adoption of QNX embedded systems.”

Now we have the second evidence of that strategy in deployment. Overlooked amid last week’s debut of BBM Channels, BlackBerry’s latest addition to its still-popular BlackBerry Messaging application, was a bit of news that shows the troubled smartphone maker once again scrambling to find solid ground in a market it pioneered.

BlackBerry has inked a dozen deals that will see BBM preloaded on a bunch of Android handsets built by manufacturers in emerging markets like Africa, India, Indonesia, Latin America and the Middle East. Under the new arrangement, BBM will be installed on smartphones from the likes of Celkon, Micromax, Mito, Nexian and Zen. Not OEMs of particular renown in the West, but significant players in the emerging markets to which they cater.

Which makes this a noteworthy move. Because, while BlackBerry itself might be losing smartphone share in emerging markets like Indonesia and India, BBM continues to be quite popular. Making the service cross-platform, as BlackBerry has done, will only make it more so. And preinstalling it on budget handsets in emerging markets, so users needn’t incur download charges, promises to make it even more appealing in those locales.

Now, with 80 million monthly active users, BBM remains a rickety player in a cross-platform messaging market dominated by the likes of WhatsApp and Line, which each boast hundreds of millions of monthly active users. But that’s a solid foundation, and one upon which BlackBerry may be able to build that multi-platform messaging solution that Chen said is core to the company’s new mission.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik