Is John Chen Planning To Stop Making BlackBerry Mobile Phones? No.

Don’t count on it.

Consider the following statements. Which one do you think is more accurate?

  1. John Chen is preparing to exit the mobile handset business.
  2. John Chen is prepared to exit the mobile handset business.

You caught it, right? There is a subtle change in wording but a world of difference in meaning between the two statements. If you’re not up to date on all things BlackBerry, you’re probably more likely to pick the first sentence; however, BlackBerry users – and neutral third party observers – know that the second statement is the actual truth.

But the idea that BlackBerry is going to exit the handset business is a meme that just won’t die. Certainly some tech and market analysts are largely the source of this misconception. Whether it’s through a bad (inept) analysis of the situation or leading statements – with the goal of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy – is largely irrelevant: the idea is ‘out there’, and continues despite recent encouraging news that BlackBerry handset shipments increased 15% over the last quarter (as reported by the Globe and Mail and posted here on UTB Blogs a week ago)!

So I decided to take a look back in the recent past, and rewatched Chen’s Re/Code interview (with Walt Mossberg and Ina Fried) to hear what he had to say. It’s worth a rewatch, imo.

When asked if BlackBerry was prepared to exit hardware and become a software and services company, Chen had this to say:

“I’ll be able to create a lot of value for our shareholders even without a handset business but I think with the handset business there is a chance to create even more. So I have been very clear. I know a plan to make money off the handset [business] and the market will have to tell me whether that’s a business that I should or should not be in. I’m not emotionally tied into anything. I’m emotionally tied to the fact that these are good technologies that should go to the market and I hope the market will accept it. We have a lot of great designs on the drawing board.”

and the all important coda (imho):

“It’s one of those businesses that – I think if we come up with a really good design and hit the market correctly, the segment correctly, you might see a resurgence of [our mobile handset business]. So I am not by any – you know – shape of the imagination, I am not giving it up yet.”

So there you have it. John Chen has been refreshingly frank and blunt when it comes to discussing BlackBerry, so I hope that puts the matter to bed, at least for now. Just thought it was worth posting as the release of the Passport is imminent. I have no doubt that the anti-BlackBerry crowd is already looking to ramp up a few more sensationalist headlines as we approach the launch in an attempt to depress sales of the device. They haven’t failed to bury BlackBerry’s good news with bad in the past so I’m guessing this time will be no different, particularly as the Passport has received favourable impressions in circles where BlackBerry usually doesn’t even merit a mention.

And if Chen’s statements at Re/Code aren’t convincing enough, consider BlackBerry Blend, the new software ‘portal’ that will reportedly allow you to connect your handset to any HTML5 compliant device. At launch, it will only work with a BlackBerry 10 phone and – given Apple’s introduction of “Handoff” in iOS8, and Google’s (lame imo) announcement of “Nearby” – it’s unlikely this feature is going cross platform any time soon; it’s a “Built for BlackBerry” solution – software that was created specifically to push hardware sales in the mobile Devices division.   So I’d say Chen is definitely committed to giving BlackBerry’s hardware division time to grow back to prominence. Perhaps that was what he was alluding to (in part) when he made this statement at Re/Code as well:

“… we’re going to go back to the enterprise making sure that we design phones, making sure that our Security Systems and our Applications Ecosystems and our Servers, our BBM and QNX are all linked up to how everything securely communicates with each other … I’m talking about focusing on creating Apps and APIs and SDKs to focus on getting devices talking to each other.”

With the latest rumour being that BlackBerry Blend will eventually allow third party developers to use the service as well (much like the Hub), surely that’s the case.

Watch the full Re/Code interview with John Chen here: