ANALYSIS

BlackBerry Jingles Its Keys to Recovery

BlackBerry has been hurting over the last several years, but recently it’s starting to look like the stars may be lining up for recovery. If BlackBerry does make a comeback, it will be a very different company. This time, the focus will be on security — plus one more important factor.

BlackBerry succeeded years ago. It was the first successful smartphone maker, so its leaders never thought they had to do the basics. They never paid the proper attention to building their brand and interacting with customers, the media or analysts.

They thought their company was bulletproof and would last forever. That was mistake No. 1. Nothing lasts forever without innovation and new waves of growth.

BlackBerry’s Wave

BlackBerry was No. 1 in the smartphone space, but it never innovated quickly enough. That’s when Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android stepped in and changed the sector overnight.

Suddenly, wireless apps grew from a few hundred to more than a million in a few short years. Amazing advancements in technology plus faster network speeds fueled their growth.

This is the world BlackBerry suddenly found itself drowning in.

BlackBerry never really faced competition years ago, with the exception of Palm, so it never saw competitive pressure or the need for rapid innovation.

As a side note, the Palm brand may make a comeback. Keep your eyes on CES this week.

When BlackBerry started to struggle, it frantically changed CEOs twice and strategies several times. It expanded to attract the consumer then contracted to focus on the business space once again. All the while, it kept withering away.

Nothing worked. It reached its peak of growth in 2011. That was just three or four short years ago. Then it started to crash and burn.

This is the Wave I talk about. Companies and ideas grow until they peak — then they decline. BlackBerry grew until it crested and fell a few years ago. Companies must have more than one growth wave. BlackBerry did not.

However, during the last few months, I have been seeing some interesting and hopeful signs of life once again.

BlackBerry Passport

The BlackBerry Passport is a large, nearly square smartphone. It will have a more limited market, since I don’t think most customers are interested in that shape.

However, there are groups that will find it of value — those who need video and images, like doctors, engineers, researchers and so on. Even though this may not be a mass market winner, it could be successful with one slice of the pie.

This is an opportunity BlackBerry can build on.

BlackBerry Classic

I think the BlackBerry Classic could be a winning device for BlackBerry enthusiasts. It goes back to the form and functionality most BlackBerry users crave. Since the few customers BlackBerry has left must be their core and loyal base, this could be a hit with them.

Not every user wants an iPhone or Android. Many prefer security.

BlackBerry and the Boeing Black

Boeing’s Black is a highly secure smartphone for top-secret use by corporations and government agencies. BlackBerry is collaborating on its security — the phone reportedly will have built-in encryption, be able to communicate over wireless or satellite networks, have a self-destruct feature if tampered with, and more.

Think of Boeing Black as BlackBerry on steroids.

I expect more innovation to come out of BlackBerry as 2015 rolls on.

So the natural question is this: Is the sleeping giant starting to awaken?

BlackBerry’s Secret Weapon

Fortunately for BlackBerry, security has become a front-page issue that will be center stage in 2015 and beyond as more digital break-ins occur. Does this mean this is great timing for BlackBerry?

Right now, it may have the strongest security, but I expect to see Apple’s iPhone and Android phones like Samsung’s Galaxy line getting stronger and more secure as well.

There are two main reasons for this. One, security will be center stage, and everyone will want protection. Two, if the goal is to replace our keys and wallets with phones, they must be secure.

If the smartphone really will become the remote control for our lives, it must be better and more secure than it is today. It must be better, stronger, waterproof and secure.

Focus on Security

Mobile payment systems are coming into their own — just look at Apple Pay, Google Wallet and CurrentC. This is the direction the industry wants to take going forward.

Recall all the stores and credit cards that have been exposed during the last year. Consider government surveillance. Note how bad guys can cause problems, like with the Sony hack most recently. This is just the beginning.

So, since security is the focus, and since BlackBerry’s strength is security, I am starting to think this could be the moment when it begins its recovery — if it handles it correctly, that is.

If BlackBerry can claim the catbird seat of security, and if it can capture the imagination of consumers, it may be able to leverage its strength in light of growing security concerns.

It must create talking points, expand its brand, and connect with users, the media and analysts. It must shine a light on all the security weaknesses and threats we face every day. It must demonstrate that it is the safest solution. Period.

It never had to do this before. Whether BlackBerry can meet this challenge is the question. Only time will tell.

I’d like BlackBerry to be an up-and-comer and a real mover and shaker during the next stage of smartphone evolution.

However, it’s up to BlackBerry, the company that never bothered to keep analysts or the media up to speed. Will that change going forward?

Let’s hope for the best and wait and see what happens next. The next step is up to you, BlackBerry.

Jeff Kagan

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a technologyindustry analyst and consultant who enjoys sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry he's been watching for 25 years. Email him at [email protected].

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