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Blackberry Fairfax sale: RIP BlackBerry, your time is still up

Gordon Kelly


Blackberry Fairfax sale: RIP BlackBerry, your time is still up

It's over. Fat ladies, knock-out blows, bells tolling... however you want to phrase it, BlackBerry is dead. In fact for a company so drastically out of touch and so desperate to weather self inflicted wound after self inflicted wound, the only surprise over the last few years is that its demise has been so drawn out.

This declaration may surprise given BlackBerry yesterday found a $4.7 billion buyer in the shape of FairFax Financial Holdings Limited, but in the long term it changes nothing. BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins has already performed the mercy killing.

It may have been dressed up as a route to "drive the company toward profitability" but pulling out the consumer space to focus on enterprise is no more likely a cure than a car maker declaring its troubled models were no longer for use on motorways. The coup de gras was then applied in two further steps:

  1. Trim the fat by culling 4,000 (one third) of employees to stem losses
  2. Realise the value of BlackBerry Messenger by releasing it on platforms people actually use.
Heins knows BlackBerry is a corpse, FairFax does too – they simply want to see it hung at its best to realise better profits and attract the best offers from bidders or a combination of butchers.

The demise of the underdog

And this is a tragedy because once again in this world of mega corporates, what classes as an underdog these days is going to lose. The company that cared about mobile long before Apple, Google or Samsung, the company who dared to point out Microsoft was doing a rubbish job. BlackBerry gave us the Bold, Curve and SureType, it made phones truly addictive for the first time. We suffered from 'BlackBerry thumb' and Webster's made 'CrackBerry' its 2006 new dictionary word of the year.

So if BlackBerry started the revolution what went wrong? It fell for the ingénue's curse: it failed to realise subsequent revolutions were allowed to happen too. That the Bold and Curve could give way to the iPhone, Android and a slew of Galaxies, that 'CrackBerry' addiction was just a better alternative away from permanent cure.

But competition was never BlackBerry's problem, reaction to it was.

Mike JimThe company famously called the first iPhone "impossible" and then BlackBerry co-CEO Jim Balsillie (left) couldn't see the problem. "In terms of a sort of a sea-change for BlackBerry, I would think that’s overstating it," he famously said. Two heads should be better than one, but his fellow CEO Mike Lazaridis (right) then dared anyone to type successfully on a touchscreen, before bragging the iPhone will be "great for BlackBerry!"

Denial eventually passed, but a ropey successor (the Storm) didn't arrive for 18 months. A virtual beta product (the PlayBook) came 12 months after the iPad and it took until last year for BlackBerry 10 and a truly finger friendly alternative to Android and iOS. The irony was BlackBerry's smaller size, which had allowed it to be so nimble in the past, was too small to chase behemoths like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung once they got in front.

Spare parts

It is telling that last week Steve Ballmer, newly open in light of his impending retirement, spoke last week of his regret at Microsoft's "distant third" place in the mobile market. A position BlackBerry would crave as it has "almost no share" in mobile devices, Ballmer complained. For the big boys BlackBerry stopped being relevant a long time ago.

So what now? Technically offers for BlackBerry remain open until 4 November, but FairFax has already outlined plans to take the company off the stock market. It is a wise move that will allow change to happen more quickly and stop the company's dirty laundry being aired in public. No public buyer could do this as effectively and given FairFax's historical lack of tech sector investment, limited financial muscle and the folly of BlackBerry's new business model long term it would be a shock if this were anything but fattening a cow for market.

And yet here is an idea for the romantics: FairFax is doing the dirty work for Nokia. The fine print of Microsoft's €5.44 billion deal allows the newly cash-rich Finns to sell phones immediately should they be marketed under another brand. It could be the perfect combination of hardware excellence and a return for Nokia to software autonomy.

Then again the more likely reality is BlackBerry is finally out of luck. The FairFax deal is a short term stay of execution in return for handing over the controls. And if equity consortiums are famous for anything, it is for dispassionately clawing apart their investments in order to make one last profit.

Will you miss BlackBerry? What should it have done to avoid its fate, or do you think there's hope yet? Let us know in the comments.

Gav Young

September 24, 2013, 11:27 am

Your an idiot! What a poor article! Does no one look objectively any more? If you tried the product you would see the new ones are actually very good.Sure they were late to the scene and are playing catch up to Android and IOS.

Media will kill Blackberry!!! I'm sure this will not get posted.

Love Android fan buoy


September 24, 2013, 12:46 pm

If this were purely about the quality of the products then fair enough, but it isn't. More to the point, you can't just dismiss its lateness. BB10 only came out this year, whereas iOS and Android are mature platforms with years of support and development.


September 24, 2013, 12:57 pm

"coup de gras" - I suppose one could translate that, loosely, as "trim the fat" ;)

"It is a wise move that will allow change to happen more quickly and stop the company's dirty laundry being aired in private" ??
At least you know somebody reads every word :)

As to what BB did wrong - I think they took themselves too seriously and forgot that they were selling fashionable toys. I mean no disparagement by "toys". I mean that they thought that their devices were an essential, unique and irreplaceable business tool. Conveniently forgetting that it was not so long previously that businesses got along perfectly well without Blackberries blinded them to the possibility that the same might be true just a few more years ahead. And so when Crackberry addicts saw a new, shinier toy, BB didn't see it as competition.


September 24, 2013, 1:06 pm

Yeah like electricity and running water. ...you'll know how useful it still is


September 24, 2013, 1:07 pm

Hooray for proofreading!

Nate Ebner

September 24, 2013, 3:54 pm

"Your an idiot!"
Way to make 'you're' point!

Gav Young

September 24, 2013, 5:51 pm

Yeah reading back, my first three words were poor and I apologise.

My company seems to be going down the iphone route which seems like a mistake, as the infrastructure in which the iphone sits means that you cannot forward meeting invites, see peoples availability, cannot sync outlook notes (without itunes) and cannot set out of office. Basic stuff that the BB has always done well. And now BB10 which works really nice and has very little clunkeness. Currently I can get two Z10's for the price of a iphone5s

For personal use, iphones apps means its wins, but I think android is pretty much there and now has some tasty hardware like the HTC ONE

I hope BB survive, competition can only be good to keep all the companies on their toes.


September 24, 2013, 7:22 pm

Typing this on my z10 while my iPhone rots away. They messed up big time tho. Still.. Those who have the z10 know its better than the rest. Pity it didn't sell. Don't really care as long as my phone and bbm work + I can run android apps too.


September 24, 2013, 9:54 pm

Totally agree with Gav Young - "Media will kill Blackberry!!!" - shame on you. It's articles like this that kill businesses and in turn, you are the cause the culling of the employees too. You ought to be ashamed.

Gordon Kelly

September 25, 2013, 6:48 am

Gav, what a stupid collection of points. I find it hard to believe you read the article before commenting. Anyway:

1. We have reviewed BB10 pretty favourably on the site
2. I make the point that the demise of BlackBerry is a terrible shame, especially considering its impressive history.
3. Blaming the media for their fate is ridiculous. BlackBerry leaders got lazy, overconfident and dismissive of their rivals. They thought the ingredients for the perfect smartphone would never change.
4. Editorials are not objective by definition, they are personal opinions. That is why this article is in the 'Opinions' category on the site. You want objective, stick to news reports.

Jonathan Morris

September 25, 2013, 9:25 am

BlackBerry surged to huge success a few years back on account of the following:

1) Their entry level Curve devices were actually pretty decent, even if they lacked things like 3G or a great camera. What they had was BIS - which made it quick and easy to get email and IMs - and a camera that was just perfect for posting photos to Facebook.

2) BIS had a fixed monthly cost and many operators offered kids the ability to have virtually unlimited access to IM, email and web - for as little as £3 a month. For a teenager on prepay having previously paid a fortune to top up to make calls and text, BlackBerry and BBM was impossible to refuse. That's why just about everyone under the age of 16 had one and BBM became as big as it did.

One problem was that teenagers aren't going to stay loyal forever, and it certainly didn't help that after having no new products for so long, the new devices were a lot more expensive AND didn't use BIS.

Suddenly any teenager that wanted to keep up to date would have to buy a normal tariff/data package. And if they were going to have to do that, they might as well look elsewhere - as most kids have, now having an iPhone (even if said iPhone is a hand me down from another member of the family). I'd go as far to say that for some time, BlackBerry hasn't been seen as cool - but was this market ever profitable for BB in the first place?

BBM was the be all and end all for so long, the lure of great apps and games has become the new 'must-have' thing and BlackBerry wasn't ready for this at all. Not even with BB 10 OS.

So, having realised far too late that its plan to take on Android and iOS has failed miserably, it now seeks to fall back on enterprises? Many of which are still supporting BES only because they have thousands of devices in the field, but are actively looking elsewhere or even moving over gradually.

A lot of smaller businesses are quite happy to just let people get email from their own phone, and place restrictions on what can and can't be said - rather than worry too much about heavy security.

The market has massively changed and BB was so complacent that it didn't see it coming or do anything to prepare for it.

And if you look back at all the big manufacturers that have failed or struggled despite having been at the top of their game for so long (think Palm, Motorola, Nokia, Siemens, HTC and more) then you can predict that even Apple and Samsung will have such difficulties in the future by becoming arrogant and complacent.

Finally, I've been guilty of this myself - but one thing to defend BlackBerry has always been that it has devices with proper keyboards. Others have tried and failed, but BB was always the only choice for people that needed to send emails or even edit documents. I said this because I had various Bold models for years, having my first BlackBerry device back in the early 2000s.

Problem is; everyone says it - but is it true? Or is the reality that many people are now quite happy, and totally used to, using an on-screen keyboard. It's no longer desirable to have a phone that loses half the screen for keys. For every minute someone needs to enter text, there's probably ten minutes or more for consuming information or enjoying multimedia/apps.

What's more, if there was demand for a device with an integrated keyboard - why wouldn't we have more Android devices with them? Why wouldn't Nokia have at least one Communicator-style Lumia device to satisfy the demand? Answer; the demand has probably all but disappeared.

Gordon Kelly

September 25, 2013, 2:44 pm

Agree with all of this. It may also be longer than my editorial!

Gordon Kelly

September 25, 2013, 2:45 pm

Definitely our fault. Don't try looking any further.

Gordon Kelly

September 25, 2013, 2:46 pm

The Z10 is an excellent phone and BB10 is a really nice OS. The problem was not a quality issue, but a timing issue. They needed to arrive a few years ago.

Gordon Kelly

September 25, 2013, 2:49 pm

Thanks for the follow up and I appreciate the apology.

I hope BlackBerry survives too - it is the little guy in a world of Google, Microsoft and Apple and offers a genuine differentiator. But it is failing simply by being too slow to react - and now it has reacted too many customers have switched ecosystems and aren't prepared to switch back.

BB10 is a far better platform at launch than iOS or Android were, but it doesn't quite have to pull to get enough people to switch back once more and BlackBerry doesn't have the finances of its rivals to match their marketing blitzes.


September 27, 2013, 8:54 am

Have you just arrived on this planet?


September 27, 2013, 9:00 am

Blackberry are doing a good enough job killing themselves off. They took far too long to come to market with a competitive product and when they did, they produced a me-too phone. People had invested years into either the iOS or Android ecosystem and BB offered nothing new or exciting. Yes, BB10 is good, but it offers nothing new or compelling to tempt people to jump ship. Yes, having more players makes for a more competitive market but BB need/needed to bring something new or fresh and it just isn't doing it.


October 23, 2013, 4:00 pm

Gordon, Gordon, Gordon. The fat lady will surely outlast you and your mean spirited articles.

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