Black is Back!

Volume 15 Letter 9

It may have taken a new CEO and a few years but the much maligned Blackberry might finally be catching some traction in the market place. Lest you think you will be buying a Blackberry to replace your iPhone anytime soon think again. Blackberry has become all but a bit player in the mobile handset market garnering less than 3% market share. However, poised to become the new dominate player in the mobile communications market isn’t the phone but the backend infrastructure. After seeing more than a few Blackberry handsets at my recent MBA reunion I started to inquire about the technology. For security reasons my two classmates who work for the Securities exchange commission are required to use Blackberrys. Turns out the Blackberry is the only one that stumps the foreign hackers who seem so apt at opening holes in all other platforms.

As our world evolves to driverless cars, on phone pay systems, smart homes and extended on-line banking; mobile internet security becomes an imperative. The Achilles heels of both Apple and Android are their consumer-oriented backend systems that run their networks and their inability to keep the snoopers out. Next time you become Secretary of State and want to send out a few emails you might want to make sure it’s on a Blackberry system. The system is so tight that the Indian government can’t crack it and has demanded that Blackberry share information as dissident groups there use Blackberry phones to organize political rallies.

Blackberry certainly lost their way when the iPhone was first launched and fell all over themselves trying to make a Blackberry into an entertainment device – it’s not! Apple had already beaten Sony at that game and was happy to destroy Blackberry on the same battlefield. However Blackberry has always owned the business market offering a bullet proof infrastructure – something both Apple and Android envy. John Chen the now CEO of Blackberry has re-focused Blackberry on this strength and invested heavily here. Last week they announced their first phone using the Android operating system, but supported by the Blackberry infrastructure – expect more to come. Additionally many of the car manufacturers have licensed Blackberry to run their operating system as the platform in their cars to which phones connect. Here again Blackberry is leveraging their strength as an underlying platform. Enjoy your music and movies on your iPhone but if you don’t want offshore competitors snooping in your emails when traveling abroad or want to use your mobile phone to control your home security system go with the Blackberry platform.

What can we learn from the much maligned Blackberry:

  1. Play to your strengths: Blackberry is a business device not an entertainment device – don’t try to become what you’re not!!
  2. When in trouble re-focus: Blackberry CEO John Chen has re-focused Blackberry on mobile internet security and has positioned them as the clear leader in this market
  3. Pick your battles: Steve Jobs drew Blackberry into a battle they couldn’t win. Blackberry should have fought Apple in the business arena not the entertainment arena!

As operating systems take over our cars (some taxis in Japan next year will be driverless) and internet security becomes a major nightmare for mobile devices, Blackberry might just be well positioned for the future.

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