BlackBerry CEO John Chen has differentiated himself from his predecessors since his arrival a little over a year ago. Prior to his arrival, the situation at BlackBerry was very bleak. The BlackBerry 10 launch had not been a successful one and the company had just gone through the process of putting itself up for sale.
Stores that had previously stocked BB10 devices had begun the process of removing them from their shelves and many in the mainstream media had begun questioning how long BlackBerry as a company would survive.
True BlackBerry Fans Never Gave Up During the Darkest Hour
For many of us, it was a painful time to be a BlackBerry fan. It was very common to be ridiculed for owning a BlackBerry device and be constantly reminded by people on other platforms that BlackBerry was going down. There was a religious determination by others to do everything in their power to get us to give up on BlackBerry and migrate to other platforms.
But it was also a time when many of us banded together as there was belief that with the right person in charge of the company, its fortunes could be turned around. Despite the situation the company was in a year ago, there was still some hope. Despite what others said, our BlackBerry devices were the most compatible with our needs
We saw the new BB10 operating system as one that was vastly different, but yet superior to its competition. There was also the fact that BlackBerry’s security was still second to none. Its BES 10 mobile device management (MDM) was heads and shoulders above its competition and its BBM messaging service was still the cream of the crop.
The Arrival of CEO John Chen
With the arrival of CEO John Chen many of us immediately saw something different about him, that gave us hope. He was the man credited with saving Sybase from the brink of collapse and making it profitable for 55 successive quarters before it was sold to SAP for $5.8 billion in 2010. There was the feeling that if there was anyone capable of turning BlackBerry as a company around, it had to be him.
John Chen did not waste any time getting to work, as he did not have the luxury like other new CEO’s of be able to gradually settle in. He had to roll up his sleeves and come up with an immediate plan that would radically change the way they do business, stop the cash burn, maintain their remaining customers and at the same time put the steps in place to regain profitability. It was not a job that many desired, but he accepted the challenge.
CEO John Chen Starts Implementing his Turn Around Strategy
When he took over as CEO, the difference of him being in charge was very clear. He was more of a strategist and was always thinking three or four steps ahead. In the coming months there were many announcements and partnerships formed. There was the deal with FoxConn to manage its manufacturing and control its inventory costs. There were other initiatives that took advantage of its embedded QNX system such as Project Ion (the Internet of things) , Nanthealth (healthcare) and the QNX operating system for Automotive Safety 1.0 and key acquisitions of of companies such as Movirtu and Secusmart.
He formulated a plan to put the company in the best position possible to start making money, by playing to its strengths (enterprise and security). In addition there was the realigning the company into four separate units, Enterprise Services, Devices, BBM and BlackBerry Technology Solutions, each with its own budget, list of objectives and strategies that gave them the ability to work independently without the distraction of other sectors of the company.
Countering Inaccuracies and Misinformation
One of the biggest challenges that BlackBerry faced was public perception. Although there was some that was justified under the previous leadership, the vast majority was inaccurate and misleading. Before John Chen’s arrival, BlackBerry as a company rarely fought back and this really hurt them, as it gave more of its competitors the incentive to do so.
There is a saying that if you repeat a false fact many times without it being countered, eventually it becomes the truth in the eyes of the public. After a certain point in time if it is not countered it would not only hurt the company, but also cost them valuable customers and sales of its devices and services. That is the reason why there are many carrier representatives that would make silly and inaccurate statements like “BlackBerry is bankrupt” or “BlackBerry had been sold” or “BlackBerry has gone out of business” to steer customers who asked for a BlackBerry towards other brands
This is where BlackBerry’s fact check has become a valuable tool is BlackBerry’s arsenal. It has served a purpose by rebutting scores of false myths and inaccuracies that have been reported in the mainstream media. The other change that have occurred is that John Chen and his team are more proactive and quicker in their response, as it has become a matter of great importance to ensure that the information circulating in the media about BlackBerry is accurate.
The Evolution of Android Compatibility on BlackBerry 10 Devices
As the BlackBerry 10 operating system evolved, so did the demand for apps among many of the consumers. Prior to the launch, there were several initiatives and port-a-thons organized the BlackBerry Developer Relations group. While the effort did result in the BlackBerry 10 operating system being launched with 80,000 apps, more than any platform in recent times, it was simply not enough for many of the consumers. For them, too many of the “big-named” apps were missing.
There were several websites and portals that spring up with instructions on converting Android apk files to BlackBerry 10’s bar files, resulting in the availability of some apps, but many were buggy due to the Android Ginger Bread runtime. This did not cut it for many consumers, so BlackBerry had to make a decision either to allow Android apps to be installed or to risk losing out on customers because a particular app was not available.
BlackBerry’s 10.2.1 Upgrade and the Ability To Directly Install Android Apps
With the 10.2.1 operating system update, the Android runtime was upgraded to version 4.4 Jelly Bean and the functionality enhanced to allow for the direct installation of Android apps. This drastically increased the BlackBerry 10 app availability to run a very large percentage of Android app apk’s by simply downloading them without needing to convert them. It did create a dilemma for some, as they were not comfortable downloading apps without some type of agreement in place with an Android app store.
There was also the situation of some users who refused to download any apps from any other source than an official app store. So a deal was made with Amazon to have their official app store pre-installed on BlackBerry 10 devices, starting with the 10.3 operating system update.
Deal Signed With Amazon to have their App Store Pre-Installed
An agreement was signed between BlackBerry and Amazon shortly after its June Earnings Report, which essentially gave BlackBerry access to its app store. In addition, it would also result in the Amazon Store being pre-loaded on BB10 devices, starting from version 10.3 This was a significant development as it essentially took away the “no big named app availability” arguments that were effectively being used by some carrier representatives to steer customers away from BlackBerry devices. It also gave provided BlackBerry consumers with the availability of an additional 240,000 apps available for download.
BlackBerry Devices Made Available for Purchase Online
Making BlackBerry devices available for purchase online on Shop BlackBerry, Amazon and other retailers also removed the dependency that many of its customer had on the carriers schedule for availability of their devices. During the BlackBerry 10 initial launch, many customers in the United States had to wait almost to 2 months before the carriers made the devices available, which resulted in a lot of lost sales.
During the BlackBerry Passport launch, online availability helped tremendously to drive sales. It removed the situation of unavailability due to the situation where many of the carrier stores no longer stocked BlackBerry devices. Many customers who were previously stymied by their carriers or were actively steered towards another device could now bypass them and obtain the BlackBerry device they wanted without the hassle that they used to endure at the carrier stores.
CEO John Chen’s Appearances in the media
From watching his interviews in the mainstream media, one can conclude that CEO Chen has clear objectives in terms of where he wants to take the company and how he plans to achieve it. He is not the best public speaker, but is a straight-shooter who is very open, frank and always effectively gets his point across.
Throughout many of his interviews, he has faced some of the toughest questioning but has always managed to present and aura of credibility and humor which he is known for. In his appearances you get the feeling that he is being honest and sincere whenever he presents his plans and strategies are for turning BlackBerry around and achieving growth.
The BlackBerry Z3 Launch
In the Summer of 2014, BlackBerry launched the Z3 at an event in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was the first device manufactured under its agreement with Foxconn and was specifically targeted for the emerging market with a selling price close to US $200. In Indonesia, it was very well received and the response was overwhelming. There were lineups in the retail outlets and the initial stock was sold out within hours. This went on for several weeks. In other countries where it was launched, such as India, South Africa and Nigeria, the Z3 sales did really well.
The BlackBerry Passport Launch
September 24th marked the highly anticipated launch of the BlackBerry Passport, which was showcased at events in the cities of Toronto, London and Dubai. BlackBerry’s latest flagship device did not skimp on specs, especially with the Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU, 3 MB of memory, a 13 mega pixel camera, 1440 by 1440 resolution and a touch sensitive keyboard.
BlackBerry Passport Specifications (Source: BlackBerry.com)
There was such overwhelming demand for this device that within 10 hours, the entire inventory on Amazon.com, and Shop BlackBerry was completely sold out. CEO John Chen in a statement mentioned over 200,000 devices ordered in the first day.
In the weeks that followed, demand for the BlackBerry Passport remained very strong and the customer reviews on websites such as Amazon.com were overwhelmingly positive. The whole concept behind the design of the BlackBerry Passport was to build a device that BlackBerry’s enterprise customers had been asking for. It was one meant for “getting things done” This was quite evident in some of the reviews that the device had received.
CEO John Chen had the following to say regarding the philosophy that went into designing and building the device
“The BlackBerry Passport was created to drive productivity and to break through the sea of rectangular-screen, all-touch devices”
“As we set out to design BlackBerry Passport, we were guided by a simple yet challenging idea – to set aside the limitations of traditional design and to instead simply build a device that fundamentally changes the way business professionals get work done on their smartphone”
There is no doubt that BlackBerry’s “future prospects are looking ” a lot brighter a year after John Chen’s arrival. Recently BlackBerry has begun hiring again in specific areas and they did announce that they are approaching the end of the restructuring phase and the beginning of their growth phase.
In the mobile device management (MDM) division, BlackBerry is readying itself for the launch of the BES 12 platform. It will allow a company to manage and provide security for a range of devices spanning across several operating systems and platforms. BES 12 will have the ability to manage and secure BB10, Android, ios, Windows Phones and BBOS devices, which is very attractive for companies with a mix of corporate issued devices.
In December, the highly anticipated BlackBerry Classic will be launched. This device will bring about the toolbar with the trackpad and navigation keys, which were not included when the Q10 and Q5 keyboard devices were launched last year. There are many customers, who are still carrying their BlackBerry Bolds, but with the upcoming launch of the Classic will give an incentive for these customers to migrate from BBOS 7 to the BB10 platform.
With all that has occurred in the last year, BlackBerry is now poised for more growth and innovation. My expectation is that in 2015, we will see more in terms of putting some of BlackBerry’s acquisitions to great use. They have the advantage of owning QNX, which I believe will be the key to their involvement into such initiatives of the Internet of Things (IoT) . Expect to see more from BBM and eBBM, as CEO Chen has said in multiple interviews that monetization of these services to the amount of $100 million by 2016 is very high on his list of priorities.
In future devices my belief is that we will see the use of voice encryption technology from their acquisition of Germany’s Secusmart technologies. I also see the possibility of dual sim devices stemming from BlackBerry’s acquisition of Movirtu. With BlackBerry forging ahead, it will be interesting to see how its competitors react. Both ios and Android operating systems have begun to age and at a certain point will have to be completely overhauled to provide the level of security that BlackBerry provides in the enterprise arena.