Mobile Mavens

Will a BlackBerry buyout save its bacon?

Our Mobile Gaming Mavens discuss

Will a BlackBerry buyout save its bacon?

After weeks of speculation, BlackBerry has confirmed its set up a committee to evaluate its options, with selling up looking the most viable next step.

Reaction has been mixed, however. While some have long been calling on the Canadian giant to make such a move, others are now calling for the company to abandon smartphones altogether.

There's even reportedly a move by investors to set up a consortium to 'save' the company.

So, we asked the Mavens:

If you were BlackBerry, what would you do? Should the company sell up wholesale to one of its rivals, should it carry on as it is, or should it look to split up its assets into separate saleable businesses?

Furthermore, who do you think would make a suitable owner for BlackBerry? What options, realistically, are on the table?

 

Will Luton Luton & Son Founder

I think BlackBerry hasn't been relevant the whole time I've worked in mobile, ehich is near five years. If it disappears, it'll have almost no impact on the industry.

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Personally I think [gaming R&D] Sean Paul, [head of gaming] Anders [Jeppsson] and [global head of business development for games] Volker [Hirsch] have all been quite valiant in their efforts to make Blackberry relevant for games.

They have reached out extremely strongly to the games industry and titles can even get a reasonable level of revenue on a per user basis. The question has been scale since the advent of iPhone/Android.

Keith Andrew With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

But what would you do if placed in BlackBerry's position now?

Harry Holmwood European CEO Marvelous Entertainment

A 20-year veteran of video games and online space, Harry is European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.

A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.

He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.

Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.

I think BlackBerry's original core audience is maybe still valid – I.e people wanting to use a device with a physical keyboard, primarily for work purposes.

The other manufacturers seem to have moved away quite a lot from devices with physical keys, presumably because the market was too small, but I'm sure that leaves an opportunity for a smaller, niche player to continue.

It's only in the last year I've moved from having a physical keyboard phone - although never a Blackberry - and I miss them. I type at a fraction of the speed on a touchscreen, and definitely send fewer and shorter emails on a phone than I used to. Which maybe is a good thing for those on the receiving end.

Trying to out-Apple Apple is just not going to work. There are already enough, much bigger companies doing that.

I think BlackBerry also has an image problem among the core smartphone audience (if there still is such a thing), which will be hard to fix. Someone recently said to me 'I will never own a Blackberry because I am neither an aging businessman nor a rioting youth'.

Even the name sounds a bit dated now - like 'Filofax'. BlackBerry's image problems run pretty deep, however great its product line up or developer outreach.

Jon Hare Owner Tower Studios

BlackBerry should have sold up five years ago, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

BlackBerry is just another platform on the trash-heap (or in the landfill site) of old technology with no way forward that doesn't equal financial suicide.

Until there is an overarching plan focusing all technology makers on a backwardly compatible and forward looking mutual targets, this will always be the case.

This, my friends, is the unsavory face of uncontrolled consumerism. The blight of becoming outdated and inescapably irrelevant within the blink of an eye.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

I'm not sure if this is the best for BlackBerry, but I think it's the only way anyone is going to get value out of the BlackBerry brand.

Undoubtedly, Blackberry still has a brand that has a niche following - although those users are not purchasing their new devices because the hardware and OS is not up to snuff.

Trying to out-Apple Apple is just not going to work. There are already enough, much bigger companies doing that.
Harry Holmwood

I think the only way for the BlackBerry brand to exist is to ditch the hardware and OS and switch to being a manufacturer that specialises in Android devices, incorporating the things that make BlackBerry special, like the added security and BBM (although this is not so special anymore).

The BlackBerry brand could be used as a way to market an android phone to the enterprise market.

To be honest, there is nothing stopping Google or anyone else from adding these features on their own. And certainly, anyone could add a physical keyboard to their device if they wanted.

So the value is really just in the brand, which can be used to market to enterprise users and BlackBerry's patents, which I'm sure Samsung or Google would love to get their hands on.

Beyond that, maybe HP could acquire the company. Enough time has passed since it acquired Palm that the firm could delude itself into another run at the mobile or tablet market.

Keith Andrew With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

I disagree, actually.

I think the Z10 is a lovely looking phone. The design is nicer than iPhone (but then most phones are, bar the Galaxy S) and the OS actually appeals to me. It's like iOS plus.

But I think maybe that's the problem. Harry hits the nail on the head for me - there's not much point in trying to out-Apple Apple.

I said at the time of BB10's unveiling that I couldn't understand why the company was making such a great play of games.

All the titles it had were essentially iOS or Android ports, and the BlackBerry brand just isn't a good fit for games, and it would have taken such especially sustained and expensive marketing over a long period to change that perception.

What's more, games - individually, at least - don't sell phones anyway. BlackBerry made the same mistakes it made with PlayBook - it delivered a perfectly lovely device without really knowing why it was doing it.

BlackBerry should have stuck to what it knew - keyboard only, secure, business phones. There's still a market for that.

Instead, it got distracted by the bright lights of iOS, panicked at the numbers Apple has been posting, and entered a race it was never going to win. (As an aside, the Alicia Keys announcement was especially embarrassing.)

As a result, it's probably too late for BlackBerry to have another relaunch. In an ideal world I'd love to see the firm going back to what it does best, but in reality I think it's going to come down to whether one of its rivals think the BB brand is one worth saving.

12 months ago I could have seen HTC, HP or even Microsoft may have paid out for the firm. Now I think we might see the company taken to pieces in the years ahead.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

Of course there will be people that are passionate about the Z10, but that's the niche of an already small niche of Blackberry loyalists.

I'm sure you can even find people that are passionate about Windows Phone and still think that it has a chance to make a comeback. It's just not going to happen.

BlackBerry should have stuck to what it knew – keyboard only, secure, business phones. There's still a market for that.
Keith Andrew

The problem is that BlackBerry put its best foot forward and it wasn't enough. It failed to resonate with enough people to justify its existence. If someone acquires BlackBerry with the intent to continue where it left off, they will only experience misery. It would literally be a repeat of HP and Palm.

If, as you say, the Z10 is already one of the best looking phones out there, and the OS is a lot better than iOS, then what could another company possibly bring to the table that will turn around the hearts and minds of consumers and get them to trade an Android or Apple phone in for a BlackBerry?

That's why I'm saying, it probably makes sense for Samsung to buy the company for its patents and merge the best of what BlackBerry OS has to offer into its version of Android and, like you said, market that phone to business types.

But I do disagree which the notion that it could be a phone without games, and without all the bells and whistles found in modern phones. Even enterprise types want to be able to access social media and use apps from their favorite content providers.

Keith Andrew With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

Apps, yes. Let games on board, too. Just don't try and make them a focus.

 


With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.

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